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Title: The Faulkner Reader

Date of first publication: 1954

Author: William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Date first posted: Mar. 4, 2020

Date last updated: Mar. 15, 2020

Faded Page eBook #20200304

This eBook was produced by: Delphine Lettau, Al Haines, Cindy Beyer & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net







Selections from the works of






First Modern Library Giant Edition, 1959


Copyright, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1934, 1938, 1939, 1951, 1954 by William Faulkner

Copyright renewed, 1956, 1957, 1958 by William Faulkner

Copyright, 1931, 1939, 1946, by Random House, Inc.

Copyright, 1932, 1942, 1943 by The Curtis Publishing Co.

Copyright, 1930, by Forum

Nobel Prize Address3
The Sound and the Fury5
The Bear (Go Down, Moses)253
Old Man (The Wild Palms)353
Spotted Horses (The Hamlet)433
A Rose for Emily489
Barn Burning499
Dry September517
That Evening Sun529
Shingles for the Lord575
A Justice589
An Odor of Verbena (The Unvanquished)615
Percy Grimm (Light in August)643
The Courthouse (Requiem for a Nun)655


My grandfather had a moderate though reasonably diffuse and catholic library; I realize now that I got most of my early education in it. It was a little limited in its fiction content, since his taste was for simple straightforward romantic excitement like Scott or Dumas. But there was a heterogeneous scattering of other volumes, chosen apparently at random and by my grandmother, since the flyleaves bore her name and the dates in the 1880’s and ’90’s of that time when even in a town as big as Memphis, Tennessee, ladies stopped in their carriages in the street in front of the stores and shops, and clerks and even proprietors came out to receive their commands—that time when women did most of the book-buying and the reading too, naming their children Byron and Clarissa and St. Elmo and Lothair after the romantic and tragic heroes and heroines and the even more romantic creators of them.

One of these books was by a Pole, Sienkiewicz—a story of the time of King John Sobieski, when the Poles, almost single-handed, kept the Turks from overrunning Central Europe. This one, like all books of that period, at least the ones my grandfather owned, had a preface, a foreword. I never read any of them; I was too eager to get on to what the people themselves were doing and anguishing and triumphing over. But I did read the foreword in this one, the first one I ever took time to read; I don’t know why now. It went something like this:

This book was written at the expense of considerable effort, to uplift men’s hearts, and I thought: What a nice thing to have thought to say. But no more than that. I didn’t even think, Maybe some day I will write a book too and what a shame I didn’t think of that first so I could put it on the front page of mine. Because I hadn’t thought of writing books then. The future didn’t extend that far. This was 1915 and ’16; I had seen an aeroplane and my mind was filled with names: Ball, and Immelman and Boelcke, and Guynemer and Bishop, and I was waiting, biding, until I would be old enough or free enough or anyway could get to France and become glorious and beribboned too.

Then that had passed. It was 1923 and I wrote a book and discovered that my doom, fate, was to keep on writing books: not for any exterior or ulterior purpose: just writing the books for the sake of writing the books; obviously, since the publisher considered them worth the financial risk of being printed, someone would read them. But that was unimportant too as measured against the need to get them written, though naturally one hopes that who read them would find them true and honest and even perhaps moving. Because one was too busy writing the books during the time while the demon which drove him still considered him worthy of, deserving of, the anguish of being driven, while the blood and glands and flesh still remained strong and potent, the heart and the imagination still remained undulled to follies and lusts and heroisms of men and women; still writing the books because they had to be written after the blood and glands began to slow and cool a little and the heart began to tell him, You don’t know the answer either and you will never find it, but still writing the books because the demon was still kind; only a little more severe and unpitying: until suddenly one day he saw that that old half-forgotten Pole had had the answer all the time.

To uplift man’s heart; the same for all of us: for the ones who are trying to be artists, the ones who are trying to write simple entertainment, the ones who write to shock, and the ones who are simply escaping themselves and their own private anguishes.

Some of us don’t know that this is what we are writing for. Some of us will know it and deny it, lest we be accused and self-convicted and condemned of sentimentality, which people nowadays for some reason are ashamed to be tainted with; some of us seem to have curious ideas of just where the heart is located, confusing it with other and baser glands and organs and activities. But we all write for this one purpose.

This does not mean that we are trying to change man, improve him, though this is the hope—maybe even the intention—of some of us. On the contrary, in its last analysis, this hope and desire to uplift man’s heart is completely selfish, completely personal. He would lift up man’s heart for his own benefit because in that way he can say No to death. He is saying No to death for himself by means of the hearts which he has hoped to uplift, or even by means of the mere base glands which he has disturbed to that extent where they can say No to death on their own account by knowing, realizing, having been told and believing it: At least we are not vegetables because the hearts and glands capable of partaking in this excitement are not those of vegetables, and will, must, endure.

So he who, from the isolation of cold impersonal print, can engender this excitement, himself partakes of the immortality which he has engendered. Some day he will be no more, which will not matter then, because isolated and itself invulnerable in the cold print remains that which is capable of engendering still the old deathless excitement in hearts and glands whose owners and custodians are generations from even the air he breathed and anguished in; if it was capable once, he knows that it will be capable and potent still long after there remains of him only a dead and fading name.

New York

November, 1953


William Faulkner’s Speech of Acceptance
upon the award of the
Nobel Prize for Literature,

delivered in Stockholm on the tenth of December,

nineteen hundred fifty

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work—a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

The Sound and the Fury

APRIL 7, 1928

Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.

“Here, caddie.” He hit. They went away across the pasture. I held to the fence and watched them going away.

“Listen at you, now.” Luster said. “Aint you something, thirty-three years old, going on that way. After I done went all the way to town to buy you that cake. Hush up that moaning. Aint you going to help me find that quarter so I can go to the show tonight.”

They were hitting little, across the pasture. I went along the fence to where the flag was. It flapped on the bright grass and the trees.

“Come on.” Luster said. “We done looked there. They aint no more coming right now. Lets go down to the branch and find that quarter before them niggers finds it.”

It was red, flapping on the pasture. Then there was a bird slanting and tilting on it. Luster threw. The flag flapped on the bright grass and the trees. I held to the fence.

“Shut up that moaning.” Luster said. “I cant make them come if they aint coming, can I. If you dont hush up, mammy aint going to have no birthday for you. If you dont hush, you know what I going to do. I going to eat that cake all up. Eat them candles, too. Eat all them thirty-three candles. Come on, let’s go down to the branch. I got to find my quarter. Maybe we can find one of they balls. Here. Here they is. Way over yonder. See.” He came to the fence and pointed his arm. “See them. They aint coming back here no more. Come on.”

We went along the fence and came to the garden fence, where our shadows were. My shadow was higher than Luster’s on the fence. We came to the broken place and went through it.

“Wait a minute.” Luster said. “You snagged on that nail again. Cant you never crawl through here without snagging on that nail.”

Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through. Uncle Maury said to not let anybody see us, so we better stoop over, Caddy said. Stoop over, Benjy. Like this, see. We stooped over and crossed the garden, where the flowers rasped and rattled against us. The ground was hard. We climbed the fence, where the pigs were grunting and snuffing. I expect they’re sorry because one of them got killed today, Caddy said. The ground was hard, churned and knotted.

Keep your hands in your pockets, Caddy said. Or they’ll get froze. You don’t want your hands froze on Christmas, do you.

“It’s too cold out there.” Versh said. “You dont want to go out doors.”

“What is it now.” Mother said.

“He want to go out doors.” Versh said.

“Let him go.” Uncle Maury said.

“It’s too cold.” Mother said. “He’d better stay in. Benjamin. Stop that, now.”

“It wont hurt him.” Uncle Maury said.

“You, Benjamin.” Mother said. “If you dont be good, you’ll have to go to the kitchen.”

“Mammy say keep him out the kitchen today.” Versh said. “She say she got all that cooking to get done.”

“Let him go, Caroline.” Uncle Maury said. “You’ll worry yourself sick over him.”

“I know it.” Mother said. “It’s a judgment on me. I sometimes wonder.”

“I know, I know.” Uncle Maury said. “You must keep your strength up. I’ll make you a toddy.”

“It just upsets me that much more.” Mother said. “Dont you know it does.”

“You’ll feel better.” Uncle Maury said. “Wrap him up good, boy, and take him out for a while.”

Uncle Maury went away. Versh went away.

“Please hush.” Mother said. “We’re trying to get you out as fast as we can. I dont want you to get sick.”

Versh put my overshoes and overcoat on and we took my cap and went out. Uncle Maury was putting the bottle away in the sideboard in the dining-room.

“Keep him out about half an hour, boy.” Uncle Maury said. “Keep him in the yard, now.”

“Yes, sir.” Versh said. “We dont never let him get off the place.”

We went out doors. The sun was cold and bright.

“Where you heading for.” Versh said. “You dont think you going to town, does you.” We went through the rattling leaves. The gate was cold. “You better keep them hands in your pockets.” Versh said, “You get them froze onto that gate, then what you do. Whyn’t you wait for them in the house.” He put my hands into my pockets. I could hear him rattling in the leaves. I could smell the cold. The gate was cold.

“Here some hickeynuts. Whooey. Git up that tree. Look here at this squirl, Benjy.”

I couldn’t feel the gate at all, but I could smell the bright cold.

“You better put them hands back in your pockets.”

Caddy was walking. Then she was running, her booksatchel swinging and jouncing behind her.

“Hello, Benjy.” Caddy said. She opened the gate and came in and stooped down. Caddy smelled like leaves. “Did you come to meet me.” she said. “Did you come to meet Caddy. What did you let him get his hands so cold for, Versh.”

“I told him to keep them in his pockets.” Versh said. “Holding onto that ahun gate.”

“Did you come to meet Caddy.” she said, rubbing my hands. “What is it. What are you trying to tell Caddy.” Caddy smelled like trees and like when she says we were asleep.

What are you moaning about, Luster said. You can watch them again when we get to the branch. Here. Here’s you a jimson weed. He gave me the flower. We went through the fence, into the lot.

“What is it.” Caddy said. “What are you trying to tell Caddy. Did they send him out, Versh.”

“Couldn’t keep him in.” Versh said. “He kept on until they let him go and he come right straight down here, looking through the gate.”

“What is it.” Caddy said. “Did you think it would be Christmas when I came home from school. Is that what you thought. Christmas is the day after tomorrow. Santy Claus, Benjy. Santy Claus. Come on, let’s run to the house and get warm.” She took my hand and we ran through the bright rustling leaves. We ran up the steps and out of the bright cold, into the dark cold. Uncle Maury was putting the bottle back in the sideboard. He called Caddy. Caddy said,

“Take him in to the fire, Versh. Go with Versh.” she said. “I’ll come in a minute.”

We went to the fire. Mother said,

“Is he cold, Versh.”

“Nome.” Versh said.

“Take his overcoat and overshoes off.” Mother said. “How many times do I have to tell you not to bring him into the house with his overshoes on.”

“Yessum.” Versh said. “Hold still, now.” He took my overshoes off and unbuttoned my coat. Caddy said,

“Wait, Versh. Cant he go out again, Mother. I want him to go with me.”

“You’d better leave him here.” Uncle Maury said. “He’s been out enough today.”

“I think you’d both better stay in.” Mother said. “It’s getting colder, Dilsey says.”

“Oh, Mother.” Caddy said.

“Nonsense.” Uncle Maury said. “She’s been in school all day. She needs the fresh air. Run along, Candace.”

“Let him go, Mother.” Caddy said. “Please. You know he’ll cry.”

“Then why did you mention it before him.” Mother said. “Why did you come in here. To give him some excuse to worry me again. You’ve been out enough today. I think you’d better sit down here and play with him.”

“Let them go, Caroline.” Uncle Maury said. “A little cold wont hurt them. Remember, you’ve got to keep your strength up.”

“I know.” Mother said. “Nobody knows how I dread Christmas. Nobody knows. I am not one of those women who can stand things. I wish for Jason’s and the children’s sakes I was stronger.”

“You must do the best you can and not let them worry you.” Uncle Maury said. “Run along, you two. But dont stay out long, now. Your mother will worry.”

“Yes, sir.” Caddy said. “Come on, Benjy. We’re going out doors again.” She buttoned my coat and we went toward the door.

“Are you going to take that baby out without his overshoes.” Mother said. “Do you want to make him sick, with the house full of company.”

“I forgot.” Caddy said. “I thought he had them on.”

We went back. “You must think.” Mother said. Hold still now Versh said. He put my overshoes on. “Someday I’ll be gone, and you’ll have to think for him.” Now stomp Versh said. “Come here and kiss Mother, Benjamin.”

Caddy took me to Mother’s chair and Mother took my face in her hands and then she held me against her.

“My poor baby.” she said. She let me go. “You and Versh take good care of him, honey.”

“Yessum.” Caddy said. We went out. Caddy said,

“You needn’t go, Versh. I’ll keep him for a while.”

“All right.” Versh said. “I aint going out in that cold for no fun.” He went on and we stopped in the hall and Caddy knelt and put her arms around me and her cold bright face against mine. She smelled like trees.

“You’re not a poor baby. Are you. You’ve got your Caddy. Haven’t you got your Caddy.”

Cant you shut up that moaning and slobbering, Luster said. Aint you shamed of yourself, making all this racket. We passed the carriage house, where the carriage was. It had a new wheel.

“Git in, now, and set still until your maw come.” Dilsey said. She shoved me into the carriage. T. P. held the reins. “ ’Clare I don’t see how come Jason wont get a new surrey.” Dilsey said. “This thing going to fall to pieces under you all someday. Look at them wheels.”

Mother came out, pulling her veil down. She had some flowers.

“Where’s Roskus.” she said.

“Roskus cant lift his arms, today.” Dilsey said. “T. P. can drive all right.”

“I’m afraid to.” Mother said. “It seems to me you all could furnish me with a driver for the carriage once a week. It’s little enough I ask, Lord knows.”

“You know just as well as me that Roskus got the rheumatism too bad to do more than he have to, Miss Cahline.” Dilsey said. “You come on and get in, now. T. P. can drive you just as good as Roskus.”

“I’m afraid to.” Mother said. “With the baby.”

Dilsey went up the steps. “You calling that thing a baby,” she said. She took Mother’s arm. “A man big as T. P. Come on, now, if you going.”

“I’m afraid to.” Mother said. They came down the steps and Dilsey helped Mother in. “Perhaps it’ll be the best thing, for all of us.” Mother said.

“Aint you shamed, talking that way.” Dilsey said. “Dont you know it’ll take more than a eighteen year old nigger to make Queenie run away. She older than him and Benjy put together. And dont you start no projecking with Queenie, you hear me, T. P. If you dont drive to suit Miss Cahline, I going to put Roskus on you. He aint too tied up to do that.”

“Yessum.” T. P. said.

“I just know something will happen.” Mother said. “Stop, Benjamin.”

“Give him a flower to hold.” Dilsey said, “That what he wanting.” She reached her hand in.

“No, no.” Mother said. “You’ll have them all scattered.”

“You hold them.” Dilsey said. “I’ll get him one out.” She gave me a flower and her hand went away.

“Go on now, ’fore Quentin see you and have to go too.” Dilsey said.

“Where is she.” Mother said.

“She down to the house playing with Luster.” Dilsey said. “Go on, T. P. Drive that surrey like Roskus told you, now.”

“Yessum.” T. P. said. “Hum up, Queenie.”

“Quentin.” Mother said. “Dont let”

“Course I is.” Dilsey said.

The carriage jolted and crunched on the drive. “I’m afraid to go and leave Quentin.” Mother said. “I’d better not go. T. P.” We went through the gate, where it didnt jolt anymore. T. P. hit Queenie with the whip.

“You, T. P.” Mother said.

“Got to get her going.” T. P. said. “Keep her wake up till we get back to the barn.”

“Turn around.” Mother said. “I’m afraid to go and leave Quentin.”

“Cant turn here.” T. P. said. Then it was broader.

“Cant you turn here.” Mother said.

“All right.” T. P. said. We began to turn.

“You, T. P.” Mother said, clutching me.

“I got to turn around somehow.” T. P. said. “Whoa, Queenie.” We stopped.

“You’ll turn us over.” Mother said.

“What you want to do, then.” T. P. said.

“I’m afraid for you to try to turn around.” Mother said.

“Get up, Queenie.” T. P. said. We went on.

“I just know Dilsey will let something happen to Quentin while I’m gone.” Mother said. “We must hurry back.”

“Hum up, there.” T. P. said. He hit Queenie with the whip.

“You, T. P.” Mother said, clutching me. I could hear Queenie’s feet and the bright shapes went smooth and steady on both sides, the shadows of them flowing across Queenie’s back. They went on like the bright tops of wheels. Then those on one side stopped at the tall white post where the soldier was. But on the other side they went on smooth and steady, but a little slower.

“What do you want.” Jason said. He had his hands in his pockets and a pencil behind his ear.

“We’re going to the cemetery.” Mother said.

“All right.” Jason said. “I dont aim to stop you, do I. Was that all you wanted with me, just to tell me that.”

“I know you wont come.” Mother said. “I’d feel safer if you would.”

“Safe from what.” Jason said. “Father and Quentin cant hurt you.”

Mother put her handkerchief under her veil. “Stop it, Mother.” Jason said. “Do you want to get that damn loony to bawling in the middle of the square. Drive on, T. P.”

“Hum up, Queenie.” T. P. said.

“It’s a judgment on me.” Mother said. “But I’ll be gone too, soon.”

“Here.” Jason said.

“Whoa.” T. P. said. Jason said,

“Uncle Maury’s drawing on you for fifty. What do you want to do about it.”

“Why ask me.” Mother said. “I dont have any say so. I try not to worry you and Dilsey. I’ll be gone soon, and then you”

“Go on, T. P.” Jason said.

“Hum up, Queenie.” T. P. said. The shapes flowed on. The ones on the other side began again, bright and fast and smooth, like when Caddy says we are going to sleep.

Cry baby, Luster said. Aint you shamed. We went through the barn. The stalls were all open. You aint got no spotted pony to ride now, Luster said. The floor was dry and dusty. The roof was falling. The slanting holes were full of spinning yellow. What do you want to go that way for. You want to get your head knocked off with one of them balls.

“Keep your hands in your pockets.” Caddy said, “Or they’ll be froze. You dont want your hands froze on Christmas, do you.”

We went around the barn. The big cow and the little one were standing in the door, and we could hear Prince and Queenie and Fancy stomping inside the barn. “If it wasn’t so cold, we’d ride Fancy.” Caddy said, “But it’s too cold to hold on today.” Then we could see the branch, where the smoke was blowing. “That’s where they are killing the pig.” Caddy said. “We can come back by there and see them.” We went down the hill.

“You want to carry the letter.” Caddy said. “You can carry it.” She took the letter out of her pocket and put it in mine. “It’s a Christmas present.” Caddy said. “Uncle Maury is going to surprise Mrs Patterson with it. We got to give it to her without letting anybody see it. Keep your hands in your pockets good, now.” We came to the branch.

“It’s froze.” Caddy said, “Look.” She broke the top of the water and held a piece of it against my face. “Ice. That means how cold it is.” She helped me across and we went up the hill. “We cant even tell Mother and Father. You know what I think it is. I think it’s a surprise for Mother and Father and Mr Patterson both, because Mr Patterson sent you some candy. Do you remember when Mr Patterson sent you some candy last summer.”

There was a fence. The vine was dry, and the wind rattled in it.

“Only I dont see why Uncle Maury didn’t send Versh.” Caddy said. “Versh wont tell.” Mrs Patterson was looking out the window. “You wait here.” Caddy said. “Wait right here, now. I’ll be back in a minute. Give me the letter.” She took the letter out of my pocket. “Keep your hands in your pockets.” She climbed the fence with the letter in her hand and went through the brown, rattling flowers. Mrs Patterson came to the door and opened it and stood there.

Mr Patterson was chopping in the green flowers. He stopped chopping and looked at me. Mrs Patterson came across the garden, running. When I saw her eyes I began to cry. You idiot, Mrs Patterson said, I told him never to send you alone again. Give it to me. Quick. Mr Patterson came fast, with the hoe. Mrs Patterson leaned across the fence, reaching her hand. She was trying to climb the fence. Give it to me, she said, Give it to me. Mr Patterson climbed the fence. He took the letter. Mrs Patterson’s dress was caught on the fence. I saw her eyes again and I ran down the hill.

“They aint nothing over yonder but houses.” Luster said. “We going down to the branch.”

They were washing down at the branch. One of them was singing. I could smell the clothes flapping, and the smoke blowing across the branch.

“You stay down here.” Luster said. “You aint got no business up yonder. Them folks hit you, sho.”

“What he want to do.”

“He dont know what he want to do.” Luster said. “He think he want to go up yonder where they knocking that ball. You sit down here and play with your jimson weed. Look at them chillen playing in the branch, if you got to look at something. How come you cant behave yourself like folks.” I sat down on the bank, where they were washing, and the smoke blowing blue.

“Is you all seen anything of a quarter down here.” Luster said.

“What quarter.”

“The one I had here this morning.” Luster said. “I lost it somewhere. It fell through this here hole in my pocket. If I dont find it I cant go to the show tonight.”

“Where’d you get a quarter, boy. Find it in white folks’ pocket while they aint looking.”

“Got it at the getting place.” Luster said. “Plenty more where that one come from. Only I got to find that one. Is you all found it yet.”

“I aint studying no quarter. I got my own business to tend to.”

“Come on here.” Luster said. “Help me look for it.”

“He wouldn’t know a quarter if he was to see it, would he.”

“He can help look just the same.” Luster said. “You all going to the show tonight.”

“Dont talk to me about no show. Time I get done over this here tub I be too tired to lift my hand to do nothing.”

“I bet you be there.” Luster said. “I bet you was there last night. I bet you all be right there when that tent open.”

“Be enough niggers there without me. Was last night.”

“Nigger’s money good as white folks, I reckon.”

“White folks gives nigger money because know first white man comes along with a band going to get it all back, so nigger can go to work for some more.”

“Aint nobody going make you go to that show.”

“Aint yet. Aint thought of it, I reckon.”

“What you got against white folks.”

“Aint got nothing against them. I goes my way and lets white folks go theirs. I aint studying that show.”

“Got a man in it can play a tune on a saw. Play it like a banjo.”

“You go last night.” Luster said. “I going tonight. If I can find where I lost that quarter.”

“You going take him with you, I reckon.”

“Me.” Luster said. “You reckon I be found anywhere with him, time he start bellering.”

“What does you do when he start bellering.”

“I whips him.” Luster said. He sat down and rolled up his overalls. They played in the branch.

“You all found any balls yet.” Luster said.

“Aint you talking biggity. I bet you better not let your grandmammy hear you talking like that.”

Luster got into the branch, where they were playing. He hunted in the water, along the bank.

“I had it when we was down here this morning.” Luster said.

“Where ’bouts you lose it.”

“Right out this here hole in my pocket.” Luster said. They hunted in the branch. Then they all stood up quick and stopped, then they splashed and fought in the branch. Luster got it and they squatted in the water, looking up the hill through the bushes.

“Where is they.” Luster said.

“Aint in sight yet.”

Luster put it in his pocket. They came down the hill.

“Did a ball come down here.”

“It ought to be in the water. Didn’t any of you boys see it or hear it.”

“Aint heard nothing come down here.” Luster said. “Heard something hit that tree up yonder. Dont know which way it went.”

They looked in the branch.

“Hell. Look along the branch. It came down here. I saw it.”

They looked along the branch. Then they went back up the hill.

“Have you got that ball.” the boy said.

“What I want with it.” Luster said. “I aint seen no ball.”

The boy got in the water. He went on. He turned and looked at Luster again. He went on down the branch.

The man said “Caddie” up the hill. The boy got out of the water and went up the hill.

“Now, just listen at you.” Luster said. “Hush up.”

“What he moaning about now.”

“Lawd knows.” Luster said. “He just starts like that. He been at it all morning. Cause it his birthday, I reckon.”

“How old he.”

“He thirty-three.” Luster said. “Thirty-three this morning.”

“You mean, he been three years old thirty years.”

“I going by what mammy say.” Luster said. “I dont know. We going to have thirty-three candles on a cake, anyway. Little cake. Wont hardly hold them. Hush up. Come on back here.” He came and caught my arm. “You old loony.” he said. “You want me to whip you.”

“I bet you will.”

“I is done it. Hush, now.” Luster said. “Aint I told you you cant go up there. They’ll knock your head clean off with one of them balls. Come on, here.” He pulled me back. “Sit down.” I sat down and he took off my shoes and rolled up my trousers. “Now, git in that water and play and see can you stop that slobbering and moaning.”

I hushed and got in the water and Roskus came and said to come to supper and Caddy said,

It’s not supper time yet. I’m not going.

She was wet. We were playing in the branch and Caddy squatted down and got her dress wet and Versh said,

“Your mommer going to whip you for getting your dress wet.”

“She’s not going to do any such thing.” Caddy said.

“How do you know.” Quentin said.

“That’s all right how I know.” Caddy said. “How do you know.”

“She said she was.” Quentin said. “Besides, I’m older than you.”

“I’m seven years old.” Caddy said, “I guess I know.”

“I’m older than that.” Quentin said. “I go to school. Dont I, Versh.”

“I’m going to school next year.” Caddy said, “When it comes. Aint I, Versh.”

“You know she whip you when you get your dress wet.” Versh said.

“It’s not wet.” Caddy said. She stood up in the water and looked at her dress. “I’ll take it off.” she said. “Then it’ll dry.”

“I bet you wont.” Quentin said.

“I bet I will.” Caddy said.

“I bet you better not.” Quentin said.

Caddy came to Versh and me and turned her back.

“Unbutton it, Versh.” she said.

“Dont you do it, Versh.” Quentin said.

“Taint none of my dress.” Versh said.

“You unbutton it, Versh.” Caddy said, “Or I’ll tell Dilsey what you did yesterday.” So Versh unbuttoned it.

“You just take your dress off.” Quentin said. Caddy took her dress off and threw it on the bank. Then she didn’t have on anything but her bodice and drawers, and Quentin slapped her and she slipped and fell down in the water. When she got up she began to splash water on Quentin, and Quentin splashed water on Caddy. Some of it splashed on Versh and me and Versh picked me up and put me on the bank. He said he was going to tell on Caddy and Quentin, and then Quentin and Caddy began to splash water at Versh. He got behind a bush.

“I’m going to tell mammy on you all.” Versh said.

Quentin climbed up on the bank and tried to catch Versh, but Versh ran away and Quentin couldn’t. When Quentin came back Versh stopped and hollered that he was going to tell. Caddy told him that if he wouldn’t tell, they’d let him come back. So Versh said he wouldn’t, and they let him.

“Now I guess you’re satisfied.” Quentin said, “We’ll both get whipped now.”

“I dont care.” Caddy said. “I’ll run away.”

“Yes you will.” Quentin said.

“I’ll run away and never come back.” Caddy said. I began to cry. Caddy turned around and said “Hush.” So I hushed. Then they played in the branch. Jason was playing too. He was by himself further down the branch. Versh came around the bush and lifted me down into the water again. Caddy was all wet and muddy behind, and I started to cry and she came and squatted in the water.

“Hush now.” she said. “I’m not going to run away.” So I hushed. Caddy smelled like trees in the rain.

What is the matter with you, Luster said. Cant you get done with that moaning and play in the branch like folks.

Whyn’t you take him on home. Didn’t they told you not to take him off the place.

He still think they own this pasture, Luster said. Cant nobody see down here from the house, noways.

We can. And folks dont like to look at a loony. Taint no luck in it.

Roskus came and said to come to supper and Caddy said it wasn’t supper time yet.

“Yes tis.” Roskus said. “Dilsey say for you all to come on to the house. Bring them on, Versh.” He went up the hill, where the cow was lowing.

“Maybe we’ll be dry by the time we get to the house.” Quentin said.

“It was all your fault.” Caddy said. “I hope we do get whipped.” She put her dress on and Versh buttoned it.

“They wont know you got wet.” Versh said. “It dont show on you. Less me and Jason tells.”

“Are you going to tell, Jason.” Caddy said.

“Tell on who.” Jason said.

“He wont tell.” Quentin said. “Will you, Jason.”

“I bet he does tell.” Caddy said. “He’ll tell Damuddy.”

“He cant tell her.” Quentin said. “She’s sick. If we walk slow it’ll be too dark for them to see.”

“I dont care whether they see or not.” Caddy said. “I’m going to tell, myself. You carry him up the hill, Versh.”

“Jason wont tell.” Quentin said. “You remember that bow and arrow I made you, Jason.”

“It’s broke now.” Jason said.

“Let him tell.” Caddy said. “I dont give a cuss. Carry Maury up the hill, Versh.” Versh squatted and I got on his back.

See you all at the show tonight, Luster said. Come on, here. We got to find that quarter.

“If we go slow, it’ll be dark when we get there.” Quentin said.

“I’m not going slow.” Caddy said. We went up the hill, but Quentin didn’t come. He was down at the branch when we got to where we could smell the pigs. They were grunting and snuffing in the trough in the corner. Jason came behind us, with his hands in his pockets. Roskus was milking the cow in the barn door.

The cows came jumping out of the barn.

“Go on.” T. P. said. “Holler again. I going to holler myself. Whooey.” Quentin kicked T. P. again. He kicked T. P. into the trough where the pigs ate and T. P. lay there. “Hot dog.” T. P. said, “Didn’t he get me then. You see that white man kick me that time. Whooey.”

I wasn’t crying, but I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t crying, but the ground wasn’t still, and then I was crying. The ground kept sloping up and the cows ran up the hill. T. P. tried to get up. He fell down again and the cows ran down the hill. Quentin held my arm and we went toward the barn. Then the barn wasn’t there and we had to wait until it came back. I didn’t see it come back. It came behind us and Quentin set me down in the trough where the cows ate. I held on to it. It was going away too, and I held to it. The cows ran down the hill again, across the door. I couldn’t stop. Quentin and T. P. came up the hill, fighting. T. P. was falling down the hill and Quentin dragged him up the hill. Quentin hit T. P. I couldn’t stop.

“Stand up.” Quentin said, “You stay right here. Dont you go away until I get back.”

“Me and Benjy going back to the wedding.” T. P. said. “Whooey.”

Quentin hit T. P. again. Then he began to thump T. P. against the wall. T. P. was laughing. Every time Quentin thumped him against the wall he tried to say Whooey, but he couldn’t say it for laughing. I quit crying, but I couldn’t stop. T. P. fell on me and the barn door went away. It went down the hill and T. P. was fighting by himself and he fell down again. He was still laughing, and I couldn’t stop, and I tried to get up and I fell down, and I couldn’t stop. Versh said,

“You sho done it now. I’ll declare if you aint. Shut up that yelling.”

T. P. was still laughing. He flopped on the door and laughed. “Whooey.” he said, “Me and Benjy going back to the wedding. Sassprilluh.” T. P. said.

“Hush.” Versh said. “Where you get it.”

“Out the cellar.” T. P. said. “Whooey.”

“Hush up.” Versh said, “Where’bouts in the cellar.”

“Anywhere.” T. P. said. He laughed some more. “Moren a hundred bottles left. Moren a million. Look out, nigger, I going to holler.”

Quentin said, “Lift him up.”

Versh lifted me up.

“Drink this, Benjy.” Quentin said. The glass was hot. “Hush, now.” Quentin said. “Drink it.”

“Sassprilluh.” T. P. said. “Lemme drink it, Mr Quentin.”

“You shut your mouth.” Versh said, “Mr Quentin wear you out.”

“Hold him, Versh.” Quentin said.

They held me. It was hot on my chin and on my shirt. “Drink.” Quentin said. They held my head. It was hot inside me, and I began again. It was crying now, and something was happening inside me and I cried more, and they held me until it stopped happening. Then I hushed. It was still going around, and then the shapes began. “Open the crib, Versh.” They were going slow. “Spread those empty sacks on the floor.” They were going faster, almost fast enough. “Now. Pick up his feet.” They went on, smooth and bright. I could hear T. P. laughing. I went on with them, up the bright hill.

At the top of the hill Versh put me down. “Come on here, Quentin.” he called, looking back down the hill. Quentin was still standing there by the branch. He was chunking into the shadows where the branch was.

“Let the old skizzard stay there.” Caddy said. She took my hand and we went on past the barn and through the gate. There was a frog on the brick walk, squatting in the middle of it. Caddy stepped over it and pulled me on.

“Come on, Maury.” she said. It still squatted there until Jason poked at it with his toe.

“He’ll make a wart on you.” Versh said. The frog hopped away.

“Come on, Maury.” Caddy said.

“They got company tonight.” Versh said.

“How do you know.” Caddy said.

“With all them lights on.” Versh said, “Light in every window.”

“I reckon we can turn all the lights on without company, if we want to.” Caddy said.

“I bet it’s company.” Versh said. “You all better go in the back and slip upstairs.”

“I dont care.” Caddy said. “I’ll walk right in the parlor where they are.”

“I bet your pappy whip you if you do.” Versh said.

“I dont care.” Caddy said. “I’ll walk right in the parlor. I’ll walk right in the dining room and eat supper.”

“Where you sit.” Versh said.

“I’d sit in Damuddy’s chair.” Caddy said. “She eats in bed.”

“I’m hungry.” Jason said. He passed us and ran on up the walk. He had his hands in his pockets and he fell down. Versh went and picked him up.

“If you keep them hands out your pockets, you could stay on your feet.” Versh said. “You cant never get them out in time to catch yourself, fat as you is.”

Father was standing by the kitchen steps.

“Where’s Quentin.” he said.

“He coming up the walk.” Versh said. Quentin was coming slow. His shirt was a white blur.

“Oh.” Father said. Light fell down the steps, on him.

“Caddy and Quentin threw water on each other.” Jason said.

We waited.

“They did.” Father said. Quentin came, and Father said, “You can eat supper in the kitchen tonight.” He stopped and took me up, and the light came tumbling down the steps on me too, and I could look down at Caddy and Jason and Quentin and Versh. Father turned toward the steps. “You must be quiet, though.” he said.

“Why must we be quiet, Father.” Caddy said. “Have we got company.”

“Yes.” Father said.

“I told you they was company.” Versh said.

“You did not.” Caddy said, “I was the one that said there was. I said I would”

“Hush.” Father said. They hushed and Father opened the door and we crossed the back porch and went in to the kitchen. Dilsey was there, and Father put me in the chair and closed the apron down and pushed it to the table, where supper was. It was steaming up.

“You mind Dilsey, now.” Father said. “Dont let them make any more noise than they can help, Dilsey.”

“Yes, sir.” Dilsey said. Father went away.

“Remember to mind Dilsey, now.” he said behind us. I leaned my face over where the supper was. It steamed up on my face.

“Let them mind me tonight, Father.” Caddy said.

“I wont.” Jason said. “I’m going to mind Dilsey.”

“You’ll have to, if Father says so.” Caddy said. “Let them mind me, Father.”

“I wont.” Jason said, “I wont mind you.”

“Hush.” Father said. “You all mind Caddy, then. When they are done, bring them up the back stairs, Dilsey.”

“Yes, sir.” Dilsey said.

“There.” Caddy said, “Now I guess you’ll mind me.”

“You all hush, now.” Dilsey said. “You got to be quiet tonight.”

“Why do we have to be quiet tonight.” Caddy whispered.

“Never you mind.” Dilsey said, “You’ll know in the Lawd’s own time.” She brought my bowl. The steam from it came and tickled my face. “Come here, Versh.” Dilsey said.

“When is the Lawd’s own time, Dilsey.” Caddy said.

“It’s Sunday.” Quentin said. “Dont you know anything.”

“Shhhhhh.” Dilsey said. “Didn’t Mr Jason say for you all to be quiet. Eat your supper, now. Here, Versh. Git his spoon.” Versh’s hand came with the spoon, into the bowl. The spoon came up to my mouth. The steam tickled into my mouth. Then we quit eating and we looked at each other and we were quiet, and then we heard it again and I began to cry.

“What was that.” Caddy said. She put her hand on my hand.

“That was Mother.” Quentin said. The spoon came up and I ate, then I cried again.

“Hush.” Caddy said. But I didn’t hush and she came and put her arms around me. Dilsey went and closed both the doors and then we couldn’t hear it.

“Hush, now.” Caddy said. I hushed and ate. Quentin wasn’t eating, but Jason was.

“That was Mother.” Quentin said. He got up.

“You set right down.” Dilsey said. “They got company in there, and you in them muddy clothes. You set down too, Caddy, and get done eating.”

“She was crying.” Quentin said.

“It was somebody singing.” Caddy said. “Wasn’t it, Dilsey.”

“You all eat your supper, now, like Mr Jason said.” Dilsey said. “You’ll know in the Lawd’s own time.” Caddy went back to her chair.

“I told you it was a party.” she said.

Versh said, “He done et all that.”

“Bring his bowl here.” Dilsey said. The bowl went away.

“Dilsey.” Caddy said, “Quentin’s not eating his supper. Hasn’t he got to mind me.”

“Eat your supper, Quentin.” Dilsey said, “You all got to get done and get out of my kitchen.”

“I dont want any more supper.” Quentin said.

“You’ve got to eat if I say you have.” Caddy said. “Hasn’t he, Dilsey.”

The bowl steamed up to my face, and Versh’s hand dipped the spoon in it and the steam tickled into my mouth.

“I dont want any more.” Quentin said. “How can they have a party when Damuddy’s sick.”

“They’ll have it down stairs.” Caddy said. “She can come to the landing and see it. That’s what I’m going to do when I get my nightie on.”

“Mother was crying.” Quentin said. “Wasn’t she crying, Dilsey.”

“Dont you come pestering at me, boy.” Dilsey said. “I got to get supper for all them folks soon as you all get done eating.”

After a while even Jason was through eating, and he began to cry.

“Now you got to tune up.” Dilsey said.

“He does it every night since Damuddy was sick and he cant sleep with her.” Caddy said. “Cry baby.”

“I’m going to tell on you.” Jason said.

He was crying. “You’ve already told.” Caddy said. “There’s not anything else you can tell, now.”

“You all needs to go to bed.” Dilsey said. She came and lifted me down and wiped my face and hands with a warm cloth. “Versh, can you get them up the back stairs quiet. You, Jason, shut up that crying.”

“It’s too early to go to bed now.” Caddy said. “We dont ever have to go to bed this early.”

“You is tonight.” Dilsey said. “Your pa say for you to come right on up stairs when you et supper. You heard him.”

“He said to mind me.” Caddy said.

“I’m not going to mind you.” Jason said.

“You have to.” Caddy said. “Come on, now. You have to do like I say.”

“Make them be quiet, Versh.” Dilsey said. “You all going to be quiet, aint you.”

“What do we have to be so quiet for, tonight.” Caddy said.

“Your mommer aint feeling well.” Dilsey said. “You all go on with Versh, now.”

“I told you Mother was crying.” Quentin said. Versh took me up and opened the door onto the back porch. We went out and Versh closed the door back. I could smell Versh and feel him. “You all be quiet, now. We’re not going up stairs yet. Mr Jason said for you to come right up stairs. He said to mind me. I’m not going to mind you. But he said for all of us to. Didn’t he, Quentin.” I could feel Versh’s head. I could hear us. “Didn’t he, Versh. Yes, that’s right. Then I say for us to go out doors a while. Come on.” Versh opened the door and we went out.

We went down the steps.

“I expect we’d better go down to Versh’s house, so we’ll be quiet.” Caddy said. Versh put me down and Caddy took my hand and we went down the brick walk.

“Come on.” Caddy said, “That frog’s gone. He’s hopped way over to the garden, by now. Maybe we’ll see another one.” Roskus came with the milk buckets. He went on. Quentin wasn’t coming with us. He was sitting on the kitchen steps. We went down to Versh’s house. I liked to smell Versh’s house. There was a fire in it and T. P. squatting in his shirt tail in front of it, chunking it into a blaze.

Then I got up and T. P. dressed me and we went to the kitchen and ate. Dilsey was singing and I began to cry and she stopped.

“Keep him away from the house, now.” Dilsey said.

“We cant go that way.” T. P. said.

We played in the branch.

“We cant go around yonder.” T. P. said. “Dont you know mammy say we cant.”

Dilsey was singing in the kitchen and I began to cry.

“Hush.” T. P. said. “Come on. Lets go down to the barn.”

Roskus was milking at the barn. He was milking with one hand, and groaning. Some birds sat on the barn door and watched him. One of them came down and ate with the cows. I watched Roskus milk while T. P. was feeding Queenie and Prince. The calf was in the pig pen. It nuzzled at the wire, bawling.

“T. P.” Roskus said. T. P. said Sir, in the barn. Fancy held her head over the door, because T. P. hadn’t fed her yet. “Git done there.” Roskus said. “You got to do this milking. I cant use my right hand no more.”

T. P. came and milked.

“Whyn’t you get the doctor.” T. P. said.

“Doctor cant do no good.” Roskus said. “Not on this place.”

“What wrong with this place.” T. P. said.

“Taint no luck on this place.” Roskus said. “Turn that calf in if you done.”

Taint no luck on this place, Roskus said. The fire rose and fell behind him and Versh, sliding on his and Versh’s face. Dilsey finished putting me to bed. The bed smelled like T. P. I liked it.

“What you know about it.” Dilsey said. “What trance you been in.”

“Dont need no trance.” Roskus said. “Aint the sign of it laying right there on that bed. Aint the sign of it been here for folks to see fifteen years now.”

“Spose it is.” Dilsey said. “It aint hurt none of you and yourn, is it. Versh working and Frony married off your hands and T. P. getting big enough to take your place when rheumatism finish getting you.”

“They been two, now.” Roskus said. “Going to be one more. I seen the sign, and you is too.”

“I heard a squinch owl that night.” T. P. said. “Dan wouldn’t come and get his supper, neither. Wouldn’t come no closer than the barn. Begun howling right after dark. Versh heard him.”

“Going to be more than one more.” Dilsey said. “Show me the man what aint going to die, bless Jesus.”

“Dying aint all.” Roskus said.

“I knows what you thinking.” Dilsey said. “And they aint going to be no luck in saying that name, lessen you going to set up with him while he cries.”

“They aint no luck on this place.” Roskus said. “I seen it at first but when they changed his name I knowed it.”

“Hush your mouth.” Dilsey said. She pulled the covers up. It smelled like T. P. “You all shut up now, till he get to sleep.”

“I seen the sign.” Roskus said.

“Sign T. P. got to do all your work for you.” Dilsey said. Take him and Quentin down to the house and let them play with Luster, where Frony can watch them, T. P., and go and help your pa.

We finished eating. T. P. took Quentin up and we went down to T. P.’s house. Luster was playing in the dirt. T. P. put Quentin down and she played in the dirt too. Luster had some spools and he and Quentin fought and Quentin had the spools. Luster cried and Frony came and gave Luster a tin can to play with, and then I had the spools and Quentin fought me and I cried.

“Hush.” Frony said, “Aint you shamed of yourself. Taking a baby’s play pretty.” She took the spools from me and gave them back to Quentin.

“Hush, now.” Frony said, “Hush, I tell you.”

“Hush up.” Frony said. “You needs whipping, that’s what you needs.” She took Luster and Quentin up. “Come on here.” she said. We went to the barn. T. P. was milking the cow. Roskus was sitting on the box.

“What’s the matter with him now.” Roskus said.

“You have to keep him down here.” Frony said. “He fighting these babies again. Taking they play things. Stay here with T. P. now, and see can you hush a while.”

“Clean that udder good now.” Roskus said. “You milked that young cow dry last winter. If you milk this one dry, they aint going to be no more milk.”

Dilsey was singing.

“Not around yonder.” T. P. said. “Dont you know mammy say you cant go around there.”

They were singing.

“Come on.” T. P. said. “Lets go play with Quentin and Luster. Come on.”

Quentin and Luster were playing in the dirt in front of T. P.’s house. There was a fire in the house, rising and falling, with Roskus sitting black against it.

“That’s three, thank the Lawd.” Roskus said. “I told you two years ago. They aint no luck on this place.”

“Whyn’t you get out, then.” Dilsey said. She was undressing me. “Your bad luck talk got them Memphis notions into Versh. That ought to satisfy you.”

“If that all the bad luck Versh have.” Roskus said.

Frony came in.

“You all done.” Dilsey said.

“T. P. finishing up.” Frony said. “Miss Cahline want you to put Quentin to bed.”

“I’m coming just as fast as I can.” Dilsey said. “She ought to know by this time I aint got no wings.”

“That’s what I tell you.” Roskus said. “They aint no luck going be on no place where one of they own chillens’ name aint never spoke.”

“Hush.” Dilsey said. “Do you want to get him started?”

“Raising a child not to know its own mammy’s name.” Roskus said.

“Dont you bother your head about her.” Dilsey said. “I raised all of them and I reckon I can raise one more. Hush now. Let him get to sleep if he will.”

“Saying a name.” Frony said. “He dont know nobody’s name.”

“You just say it and see if he dont.” Dilsey said. “You say it to him while he sleeping and I bet he hear you.”

“He know lot more than folks thinks.” Roskus said. “He knowed they time was coming, like that pointer done. He could tell you when hisn coming, if he could talk. Or yours. Or mine.”

“You take Luster outen that bed, mammy.” Frony said. “That boy conjure him.”

“Hush your mouth.” Dilsey said, “Aint you got no better sense than that. What you want to listen to Roskus for, anyway. Get in, Benjy.”

Dilsey pushed me and I got in the bed, where Luster already was. He was asleep. Dilsey took a long piece of wood and laid it between Luster and me. “Stay on your side now.” Dilsey said. “Luster little, and you don’t want to hurt him.”

You can’t go yet, T. P. said. Wait.

We looked around the corner of the house and watched the carriages go away.

“Now.” T. P. said. He took Quentin up and we ran down to the corner of the fence and watched them pass. “There he go,” T. P. said. “See that one with the glass in it. Look at him. He laying in there. See him.”

Come on, Luster said, I going to take this here ball down home, where I wont lose it. Naw, sir, you cant have it. If them men sees you with it, they’ll say you stole it. Hush up, now. You cant have it. What business you got with it. You cant play no ball.

Frony and T. P. were playing in the dirt by the door. T. P. had lightning bugs in a bottle.

“How did you all get back out.” Frony said.

“We’ve got company.” Caddy said. “Father said for us to mind me tonight. I expect you and T. P. will have to mind me too.”

“I’m not going to mind you.” Jason said. “Frony and T. P. dont have to either.”

“They will if I say so.” Caddy said. “Maybe I wont say for them to.”

“T. P. dont mind nobody.” Frony said. “Is they started the funeral yet.”

“What’s a funeral.” Jason said.

“Didn’t mammy tell you not to tell them.” Versh said.

“Where they moans.” Frony said. “They moaned two days on Sis Beulah Clay.”

They moaned at Dilsey’s house. Dilsey was moaning. When Dilsey moaned Luster said, Hush, and we hushed, and then I began to cry and Blue howled under the kitchen steps. Then Dilsey stopped and we stopped.

“Oh.” Caddy said, “That’s niggers. White folks dont have funerals.”

“Mammy said us not to tell them, Frony.” Versh said.

“Tell them what.” Caddy said.

Dilsey moaned, and when it got to the place I began to cry and Blue howled under the steps. Luster, Frony, said in the window, Take them down to the barn. I cant get no cooking done with all that racket. That hound too. Get them outen here.

I aint going down there, Luster said. I might meet pappy down there. I seen him last night, waving his arms in the barn.

“I like to know why not.” Frony said. “White folks dies too. Your grandmammy dead as any nigger can get, I reckon.”

“Dogs are dead.” Caddy said, “And when Nancy fell in the ditch and Roskus shot her and the buzzards came and undressed her.”

The bones rounded out of the ditch, where the dark vines were in the black ditch, into the moonlight, like some of the shapes had stopped. Then they all stopped and it was dark, and when I stopped to start again I could hear Mother, and feet walking fast away, and I could smell it. Then the room came, but my eyes went shut. I didn’t stop. I could smell it. T. P. unpinned the bed clothes.

“Hush.” he said, “Shhhhhhhh.”

But I could smell it. T. P. pulled me up and he put on my clothes fast.

“Hush, Benjy.” he said. “We going down to our house. You want to go down to our house, where Frony is. Hush. Shhhhh.”

He laced my shoes and put my cap on and we went out. There was a light in the hall. Across the hall we could hear Mother.

“Shhhhhh, Benjy.” T. P. said, “We’ll be out in a minute.”

A door opened and I could smell it more than ever, and a head came out. It wasn’t Father. Father was sick there.

“Can you take him out of the house.”

“That’s where we going.” T. P. said. Dilsey came up the stairs.

“Hush.” she said, “Hush. Take him down home, T. P. Frony fixing him a bed. You all look after him, now. Hush, Benjy. Go on with T. P.”

She went where we could hear Mother.

“Better keep him there.” It wasn’t Father. He shut the door, but I could still smell it.

We went down stairs. The stairs went down into the dark and T. P. took my hand, and we went out the door, out of the dark. Dan was sitting in the back yard, howling.

“He smell it.” T. P. said. “Is that the way you found it out.”

We went down the steps, where our shadows were.

“I forgot your coat.” T. P. said. “You ought to had it. But I aint going back.”

Dan howled.

“Hush now.” T. P. said. Our shadows moved, but Dan’s shadow didn’t move except to howl when he did.

“I cant take you down home, bellering like you is.” T. P. said. “You was bad enough before you got that bullfrog voice. Come on.”

We went along the brick walk, with our shadows. The pig pen smelled like pigs. The cow stood in the lot, chewing at us. Dan howled.

“You going to wake the whole town up.” T. P. said. “Cant you hush.”

We saw Fancy, eating by the branch. The moon shone on the water when we got there.

“Naw, sir.” T. P. said, “This too close. We cant stop here. Come on. Now, just look at you. Got your whole leg wet. Come on, here.” Dan howled.

The ditch came up out of the buzzing grass. The bones rounded out of the black vines.

“Now.” T. P. said. “Beller your head off if you want to. You got the whole night and a twenty acre pasture to beller in.”

T. P. lay down in the ditch and I sat down, watching the bones where the buzzards ate Nancy, flapping black and slow and heavy out of the ditch.

I had it when we was down here before, Luster said. I showed it to you. Didn’t you see it. I took it out of my pocket right here and showed it to you.

“Do you think buzzards are going to undress Damuddy.” Caddy said. “You’re crazy.”

“You’re a skizzard.” Jason said. He began to cry.

“You’re a knobnot.” Caddy said. Jason cried. His hands were in his pockets.

“Jason going to be rich man.” Versh said. “He holding his money all the time.”

Jason cried.

“Now you’ve got him started.” Caddy said. “Hush up, Jason. How can buzzards get in where Damuddy is. Father wouldn’t let them. Would you let a buzzard undress you. Hush up, now.”

Jason hushed. “Frony said it was a funeral.” he said.

“Well it’s not.” Caddy said. “It’s a party. Frony dont know anything about it. He wants your lightning bugs, T. P. Let him hold it a while.”

T. P. gave me the bottle of lightning bugs.

“I bet if we go around to the parlor window we can see something.” Caddy said. “Then you’ll believe me.”

“I already knows.” Frony said. “I dont need to see.”

“You better hush your mouth, Frony.” Versh said. “Mammy going whip you.”

“What is it.” Caddy said.

“I knows what I knows.” Frony said.

“Come on.” Caddy said, “Let’s go around to the front.”

We started to go.

“T. P. wants his lightning bugs.” Frony said.

“Let him hold it a while longer, T. P.” Caddy said. “We’ll bring it back.”

“You all never caught them.” Frony said.

“If I say you and T. P. can come too, will you let him hold it.” Caddy said.

“Aint nobody said me and T. P. got to mind you.” Frony said.

“If I say you dont have to, will you let him hold it.” Caddy said.

“All right.” Frony said. “Let him hold it, T. P. We going to watch them moaning.”

“They aint moaning.” Caddy said. “I tell you it’s a party. Are they moaning, Versh.”

“We aint going to know what they doing, standing here.” Versh said.

“Come on.” Caddy said. “Frony and T. P. dont have to mind me. But the rest of us do. You better carry him, Versh. It’s getting dark.”

Versh took me up and we went on around the kitchen.

When we looked around the corner we could see the lights coming up the drive. T. P. went back to the cellar door and opened it.

You know what’s down there, T. P. said. Soda water. I seen Mr Jason come up with both hands full of them. Wait here a minute.

T. P. went and looked in the kitchen door. Dilsey said, What are you peeping in here for. Where’s Benjy.

He out here, T. P. said.

Go on and watch him, Dilsey said. Keep him out the house now.

Yessum, T. P. said. Is they started yet.

You go on and keep that boy out of sight, Dilsey said. I got all I can tend to.

A snake crawled out from under the house. Jason said he wasn’t afraid of snakes and Caddy said he was but she wasn’t and Versh said they both were and Caddy said to be quiet, like Father said.

You aint got to start bellering now, T. P. said. You want some this sassprilluh.

It tickled my nose and eyes.

If you aint going to drink it, let me get to it, T. P. said. All right, here tis. We better get another bottle while nobody bothering us. You be quiet, now.

We stopped under the tree by the parlor window. Versh set me down in the wet grass. It was cold. There were lights in all the windows.

“That’s where Damuddy is.” Caddy said. “She’s sick every day now. When she gets well we’re going to have a picnic.”

“I knows what I knows.” Frony said.

The trees were buzzing, and the grass.

“The one next to it is where we have the measles.” Caddy said. “Where do you and T. P. have the measles, Frony.”

“Has them just wherever we is, I reckon.” Frony said.

“They haven’t started yet.” Caddy said.

They getting ready to start, T. P. said. You stand right here now while I get that box so we can see in the window. Here, les finish drinking this here sassprilluh. It make me feel just like a squinch owl inside.

We drank the sassprilluh and T. P. pushed the bottle through the lattice, under the house, and went away. I could hear them in the parlor and I clawed my hands against the wall. T. P. dragged the box. He fell down, and he began to laugh. He lay there, laughing into the grass. He got up and dragged the box under the window, trying not to laugh.

“I skeered I going to holler.” T. P. said. “Git on the box and see is they started.”

“They haven’t started because the band hasn’t come yet.” Caddy said.

“They aint going to have no band.” Frony said.

“How do you know.” Caddy said.

“I knows what I knows.” Frony said.

“You dont know anything.” Caddy said. She went to the tree. “Push me up, Versh.”

“Your paw told you to stay out that tree.” Versh said.

“That was a long time ago.” Caddy said. “I expect he’s forgotten about it. Besides, he said to mind me tonight. Didn’t he say to mind me tonight.”

“I’m not going to mind you.” Jason said. “Frony and T. P. are not going to either.”

“Push me up, Versh.” Caddy said.

“All right.” Versh said. “You the one going to get whipped. I aint.” He went and pushed Caddy up into the tree to the first limb. We watched the muddy bottom of her drawers. Then we couldn’t see her. We could hear the tree thrashing.

“Mr Jason said if you break that tree he whip you.” Versh said.

“I’m going to tell on her too.” Jason said.

The tree quit thrashing. We looked up into the still branches.

“What you seeing.” Frony whispered.

I saw them. Then I saw Caddy, with flowers in her hair, and a long veil like shining wind. Caddy Caddy

“Hush.” T. P. said, “They going to hear you. Get down quick.” He pulled me. Caddy. I clawed my hands against the wall Caddy. T. P. pulled me.

“Hush.” he said. “Hush. Come on here quick.” He pulled me on. Caddy “Hush up, Benjy. You want them to hear you. Come on, les drink some more sassprilluh, then we can come back if you hush. We better get one more bottle or we both be hollering. We can say Dan drunk it. Mr Quentin always saying he so smart, we can say he sassprilluh dog, too.”

The moonlight came down the cellar stairs. We drank some more sassprilluh.

“You know what I wish.” T. P. said. “I wish a bear would walk in that cellar door. You know what I do. I walk right up to him and spit in he eye. Gimme that bottle to stop my mouth before I holler.”

T. P. fell down. He began to laugh, and the cellar door and the moonlight jumped away and something hit me.

“Hush up.” T. P. said, trying not to laugh, “Lawd, they’ll all hear us. Get up.” T. P. said, “Get up, Benjy, quick.” He was thrashing about and laughing and I tried to get up. The cellar steps ran up the hill in the moonlight and T. P. fell up the hill, into the moonlight, and I ran against the fence and T. P. ran behind me saying “Hush up hush up” Then he fell into the flowers, laughing, and I ran into the box. But when I tried to climb onto it it jumped away and hit me on the back of the head and my throat made a sound. It made the sound again and I stopped trying to get up, and it made the sound again and I began to cry. But my throat kept on making the sound while T. P. was pulling me. It kept on making it and I couldn’t tell if I was crying or not, and T. P. fell down on top of me, laughing, and it kept on making the sound and Quentin kicked T. P. and Cad put her arms around me, and her shining veil, and I couldn’t smell trees anymore and I began to cry.

Benjy, Caddy said Benjy. She put her arms around me again, but I went away. “What is it, Benjy.” she said. “Is it this hat.” She took her hat off and came again, and I went away.

“Benjy.” she said, “What is it, Benjy. What has Caddy done.”

“He dont like that prissy dress.” Jason said. “You think you’re grown up, dont you. You think you’re better than anybody else, dont you. Prissy.”

“You shut your mouth.” Caddy said, “You dirty little beast. Benjy.”

“Just because you are fourteen, you think you’re grown up, dont you.” Jason said. “You think you’re something. Dont you.”

“Hush, Benjy.” Caddy said. “You’ll disturb Mother. Hush.”

But I didn’t hush, and when she went away I followed, and she stopped on the stairs and waited and I stopped too.

“What is it, Benjy.” Caddy said, “Tell Caddy. She’ll do it. Try.”

“Candace.” Mother said.

“Yessum.” Caddy said.

“Why are you teasing him.” Mother said. “Bring him here.”

We went to Mother’s room, where she was lying with the sickness on a cloth on her head.

“What is the matter now.” Mother said. “Benjamin.”

“Benjy.” Caddy said. She came again, but I went away.

“You must have done something to him.” Mother said. “Why wont you let him alone, so I can have some peace. Give him the box and please go on and let him alone.”

Caddy got the box and set it on the floor and opened it. It was full of stars. When I was still, they were still. When I moved, they glinted and sparkled. I hushed.

Then I heard Caddy walking and I began again.

“Benjamin.” Mother said, “Come here.” I went to the door. “You, Benjamin.” Mother said.

“What is it now.” Father said, “Where are you going.”

“Take him downstairs and get someone to watch him, Jason.” Mother said. “You know I’m ill, yet you”

Father shut the door behind us.

“T. P.” he said.

“Sir.” T. P. said downstairs.

“Benjy’s coming down.” Father said. “Go with T. P.”

I went to the bathroom door. I could hear the water.

“Benjy.” T. P. said downstairs.

I could hear the water. I listened to it.

“Benjy.” T. P. said downstairs.

I listened to the water.

I couldn’t hear the water, and Caddy opened the door.

“Why, Benjy.” she said. She looked at me and I went and she put her arms around me. “Did you find Caddy again.” she said. “Did you think Caddy had run away.” Caddy smelled like trees.

We went to Caddy’s room. She sat down at the mirror. She stopped her hands and looked at me.

“Why, Benjy. What is it.” she said. “You mustn’t cry. Caddy’s not going away. See here.” she said. She took up the bottle and took the stopper out and held it to my nose. “Sweet. Smell. Good.”

I went away and I didn’t hush, and she held the bottle in her hand, looking at me.

“Oh.” she said. She put the bottle down and came and put her arms around me. “So that was it. And you were trying to tell Caddy and you couldn’t tell her. You wanted to, but you couldn’t, could you. Of course Caddy wont. Of course Caddy wont. Just wait till I dress.”

Caddy dressed and took up the bottle again and we went down to the kitchen.

“Dilsey.” Caddy said, “Benjy’s got a present for you.” She stooped down and put the bottle in my hand. “Hold it out to Dilsey, now.” Caddy held my hand out and Dilsey took the bottle.

“Well I’ll declare.” Dilsey said, “If my baby aint give Dilsey a bottle of perfume. Just look here, Roskus.”

Caddy smelled like trees. “We dont like perfume ourselves.” Caddy said.

She smelled like trees.

“Come on, now.” Dilsey said, “You too big to sleep with folks. You a big boy now. Thirteen years old. Big enough to sleep by yourself in Uncle Maury’s room.” Dilsey said.

Uncle Maury was sick. His eye was sick, and his mouth. Versh took his supper up to him on the tray.

“Maury says he’s going to shoot the scoundrel.” Father said. “I told him he’d better not mention it to Patterson before hand.” He drank.

“Jason.” Mother said.

“Shoot who, Father.” Quentin said. “What’s Uncle Maury going to shoot him for.”

“Because he couldn’t take a little joke.” Father said.

“Jason.” Mother said, “How can you. You’d sit right there and see Maury shot down in ambush, and laugh.”

“Then Maury’d better stay out of ambush.” Father said.

“Shoot who, Father.” Quentin said, “Who’s Uncle Maury going to shoot.”

“Nobody.” Father said. “I dont own a pistol.”

Mother began to cry. “If you begrudge Maury your food, why aren’t you man enough to say so to his face. To ridicule him before the children, behind his back.”

“Of course I dont.” Father said, “I admire Maury. He is invaluable to my own sense of racial superiority. I wouldn’t swap Maury for a matched team. And do you know why, Quentin.”

“No, sir.” Quentin said.

Et ego in arcadia I have forgotten the latin for hay.” Father said. “There, there.” he said, “I was just joking.” He drank and set the glass down and went and put his hand on Mother’s shoulder.

“It’s no joke.” Mother said. “My people are every bit as well born as yours. Just because Maury’s health is bad.”

“Of course.” Father said. “Bad health is the primary reason for all life. Created by disease, within putrefaction, into decay. Versh.”

“Sir.” Versh said behind my chair.

“Take the decanter and fill it.”

“And tell Dilsey to come and take Benjamin up to bed.” Mother said.

“You a big boy.” Dilsey said, “Caddy tired sleeping with you. Hush now, so you can go to sleep.” The room went away, but I didn’t hush, and the room came back and Dilsey came and sat on the bed, looking at me.

“Aint you going to be a good boy and hush.” Dilsey said. “You aint, is you. See can you wait a minute, then.”

She went away. There wasn’t anything in the door. Then Caddy was in it.

“Hush.” Caddy said. “I’m coming.”

I hushed and Dilsey turned back the spread and Caddy got in between the spread and the blanket. She didn’t take off her bathrobe.

“Now,” she said, “Here I am.” Dilsey came with a blanket and spread it over her and tucked it around her.

“He be gone in a minute.” Dilsey said. “I leave the light on in your room.”

“All right.” Caddy said. She snuggled her head beside mine on the pillow. “Goodnight, Dilsey.”

“Goodnight, honey.” Dilsey said. The room went black. Caddy smelted like trees.

We looked up into the tree where she was.

“What she seeing, Versh.” Frony whispered.

“Shhhhhhh.” Caddy said in the tree. Dilsey said,

“You come on here.” She came around the corner of the house. “Whyn’t you all go on up stairs, like your paw said, stead of slipping out behind my back. Where’s Caddy and Quentin.”

“I told her not to climb up that tree.” Jason said. “I’m going to tell on her.”

“Who in what tree.” Dilsey said. She came and looked up into the tree. “Caddy.” Dilsey said. The branches began to shake again.

“You, Satan.” Dilsey said. “Come down from there.”

“Hush.” Caddy said, “Dont you know Father said to be quiet.” Her legs came in sight and Dilsey reached up and lifted her out of the tree.

“Aint you got any better sense than to let them come around here.” Dilsey said.

“I couldn’t do nothing with her.” Versh said.

“What you all doing here.” Dilsey said. “Who told you to come up to the house.”

“She did.” Frony said. “She told us to come.”

“Who told you you got to do what she say.” Dilsey said. “Get on home, now.” Frony and T. P. went on. We couldn’t see them when they were still going away.

“Out here in the middle of the night.” Dilsey said. She took me up and we went to the kitchen.

“Slipping out behind my back.” Dilsey said. “When you knowed it’s past your bedtime.”

“Shhhh, Dilsey.” Caddy said. “Dont talk so loud. We’ve got to be quiet.”

“You hush your mouth and get quiet, then,” Dilsey said. “Where’s Quentin.”

“Quentin’s mad because he had to mind me tonight.” Caddy said. “He’s still got T. P.’s bottle of lightning bugs.”

“I reckon T. P. can get along without it.” Dilsey said. “You go and find Quentin, Versh. Roskus say he seen him going towards the barn.” Versh went on. We couldn’t see him.

“They’re not doing anything in there.” Caddy said. “Just sitting in chairs and looking.”

“They dont need no help from you all to do that.” Dilsey said. We went around the kitchen.

Where you want to go now, Luster said. You going back to watch them knocking ball again. We done looked for it over there. Here. Wait a minute. You wait right here while I go back and get that ball. I done thought of something.

The kitchen was dark. The trees were black on the sky. Dan came waddling out from under the steps and chewed my ankle. I went around the kitchen, where the moon was. Dan came scuffling along, into the moon.

“Benjy.” T. P. said in the house.

The flower tree by the parlor window wasn’t dark, but the thick trees were. The grass was buzzing in the moonlight where my shadow walked on the grass.

“You, Benjy.” T. P. said in the house. “Where you hiding. You slipping off. I knows it.”

Luster came back. Wait, he said. Here. Dont go over there. Miss Quentin and her beau in the swing yonder. You come on this way. Come back here, Benjy.

It was dark under the trees. Dan wouldn’t come. He stayed in the moonlight. Then I could see the swing and I began to cry.

Come away from there, Benjy, Luster said. You know Miss Quentin going to get mad.

It was two now, and then one in the swing. Caddy came fast, white in the darkness.

“Benjy,” she said. “How did you slip out. Where’s Versh.”

She put her arms around me and I hushed and held to her dress and tried to pull her away.

“Why, Benjy.” she said. “What is it. T. P.” she called.

The one in the swing got up and came, and I cried and pulled Caddy’s dress.

“Benjy.” Caddy said. “It’s just Charlie. Dont you know Charlie.”

“Where’s his nigger.” Charlie said. “What do they let him run around loose for.”

“Hush, Benjy.” Caddy said. “Go away, Charlie. He doesn’t like you.” Charlie went away and I hushed. I pulled at Caddy’s dress.

“Why, Benjy.” Caddy said. “Aren’t you going to let me stay here and talk to Charlie awhile.”

“Call that nigger.” Charlie said. He came back. I cried louder and pulled at Caddy’s dress.

“Go away, Charlie.” Caddy said. Charlie came and put his hands on Caddy and I cried more. I cried loud.

“No, no.” Caddy said. “No. No.”

“He cant talk.” Charlie said. “Caddy.”

“Are you crazy.” Caddy said. She began to breathe fast. “He can see. Dont. Dont.” Caddy fought. They both breathed fast. “Please. Please.” Caddy whispered.

“Send him away.” Charlie said.

“I will.” Caddy said. “Let me go.”

“Will you send him away.” Charlie said.

“Yes.” Caddy said. “Let me go.” Charlie went away. “Hush.” Caddy said. “He’s gone.” I hushed. I could hear her and feel her chest going.

“I’ll have to take him to the house.” she said. She took my hand. “I’m coming.” she whispered.

“Wait.” Charlie said. “Call the nigger.”

“No.” Caddy said. “I’ll come back. Come on, Benjy.”

“Caddy.” Charlie whispered, loud. We went on. “You better come back. Are you coming back.” Caddy and I were running. “Caddy.” Charlie said. We ran out into the moonlight, toward the kitchen.

“Caddy.” Charlie said.

Caddy and I ran. We ran up the kitchen steps, onto the porch, and Caddy knelt down in the dark and held me. I could hear her and feel her chest. “I wont.” she said. “I wont anymore, ever. Benjy. Benjy.” Then she was crying, and I cried, and we held each other. “Hush.” she said. “Hush. I wont anymore.” So I hushed and Caddy got up and we went into the kitchen and turned the light on and Caddy took the kitchen soap and washed her mouth at the sink, hard. Caddy smelled like trees.

I kept a telling you to stay away from there, Luster said. They sat up in the swing, quick. Quentin had her hands on her hair. He had a red tie.

You old crazy loon, Quentin said. I’m going to tell Dilsey about the way you let him follow everywhere I go. I’m going to make her whip you good.

“I couldn’t stop him.” Luster said. “Come on here, Benjy.”

“Yes you could.” Quentin said. “You didn’t try. You were both snooping around after me. Did Grandmother send you all out here to spy on me.” She jumped out of the swing. “If you dont take him right away this minute and keep him away, I’m going to make Jason whip you.”

“I cant do nothing with him.” Luster said. “You try it if you think you can.”

“Shut your mouth.” Quentin said. “Are you going to get him away.”

“Ah, let him stay.” he said. He had a red tie. The sun was red on it. “Look here, Jack.” He struck a match and put it in his mouth. Then he took the match out of his mouth. It was still burning. “Want to try it.” he said. I went over there. “Open your mouth.” he said. I opened my mouth. Quentin hit the match with her hand and it went away.

“Goddamn you.” Quentin said. “Do you want to get him started. Dont you know he’ll beller all day. I’m going to tell Dilsey on you.” She went away running.

“Here, kid.” he said. “Hey. Come on back. I aint going to fool with him.”

Quentin ran on to the house. She went around the kitchen.

“You played hell then, Jack.” he said. “Aint you.”

“He cant tell what you saying.” Luster said. “He deef and dumb.”

“Is.” he said. “How long’s he been that way.”

“Been that way thirty-three years today.” Luster said. “Born loony. Is you one of them show folks.”

“Why.” he said.

“I dont ricklick seeing you around here before.” Luster said.

“Well, what about it.” he said.

“Nothing.” Luster said. “I going tonight.”

He looked at me.

“You aint the one can play a tune on that saw, is you.” Luster said.

“It’ll cost you a quarter to find that out.” he said. He looked at me. “Why dont they lock him up.” he said. “What’d you bring him out here for.”

“You aint talking to me.” Luster said. “I cant do nothing with him. I just come over here looking for a quarter I lost so I can go to the show tonight. Look like now I ain’t going to get to go.” Luster looked on the ground. “You aint got no extra quarter, is you.” Luster said.

“No.” he said. “I aint.”

“I reckon I just have to find that other one, then.” Luster said. He put his hand in his pocket. “You dont want to buy no golf ball neither, does you.” Luster said.

“What kind of ball.” he said.

“Golf ball.” Luster said. “I dont want but a quarter.”

“What for.” he said. “What do I want with it.”

“I didn’t think you did.” Luster said. “Come on here, mulehead.” he said. “Come on here and watch them knocking that ball. Here. Here something you can play with along with that jimson weed.” Luster picked it up and gave it to me. It was bright.

“Where’d you get that.” he said. His tie was red in the sun, walking.

“Found it under this here bush.” Luster said. “I thought for a minute it was that quarter I lost.”

He came and took it.

“Hush.” Luster said. “He going to give it back when he done looking at it.”

“Agnes Mabel Becky.” he said. He looked toward the house.

“Hush.” Luster said. “He fixing to give it back.”

He gave it to me and I hushed.

“Who come to see her last night.” he said.

“I dont know.” Luster said. “They comes every night she can climb down that tree. I dont keep no track of them.”

“Damn if one of them didn’t leave a track.” he said. He looked at the house. Then he went and lay down in the swing. “Go away.” he said. “Dont bother me.”

“Come on here.” Luster said. “You done played hell now. Time Miss Quentin get done telling on you.”

We went to the fence and looked through the curling flower spaces. Luster hunted in the grass.

“I had it right here.” he said. I saw the flag flapping, and the sun slanting on the broad grass.

“They’ll be some along soon.” Luster said. “There some now, but they going away. Come on and help me look for it.”

We went along the fence.

“Hush.” Luster said. “How can I make them come over here, if they aint coming. Wait. They’ll be some in a minute. Look yonder. Here they come.”

I went along the fence, to the gate, where the girls passed with their booksatchels. “You, Benjy.” Luster said. “Come back here.”

You cant do no good looking through the gate, T. P. said. Miss Caddy done gone long ways away. Done got married and left you. You cant do no good, holding to the gate and crying. She cant hear you.

What is it he wants, T. P. Mother said. Cant you play with him and keep him quiet.

He wants to go down yonder and look through the gate, T. P. said.

Well, he cannot do it, Mother said. It’s raining. You will just have to play with him and keep him quiet. You, Benjamin.

Aint nothing going to quiet him, T. P. said. He think if he down to the gate, Miss Caddy come back.

Nonsense, Mother said.

I could hear them talking. I went out the door and I couldn’t hear them, and I went down to the gate, where the girls passed with their booksatchels. They looked at me, walking fast, with their heads turned. I tried to say, but they went on, and I went along the fence, trying to say, and they went faster. Then they were running and I came to the corner of the fence and I couldn’t go any further, and I held to the fence, looking after them and trying to say.

“You, Benjy.” T. P. said. “What you doing, slipping out. Dont you know Dilsey whip you.”

“You cant do no good, moaning and slobbering through the fence.” T. P. said. “You done skeered them chillen. Look at them, walking on the other side of the street.”

How did he get out, Father said. Did you leave the gate unlatched when you came in, Jason.

Of course not, Jason said. Dont you know I’ve got better sense than to do that. Do you think I wanted anything like this to happen. This family is bad enough, God knows. I could have told you, all the time. I reckon you’ll send him to Jackson, now. If Mrs Burgess dont shoot him first.

Hush, Father said.

I could have told you, all the time, Jason said.

It was open when I touched it, and I held to it in the twilight. I wasn’t crying, and I tried to stop, watching the girls coming along in the twilight. I wasn’t crying.

“There he is.”

They stopped.

“He cant get out. He wont hurt anybody, anyway. Come on.”

“I’m scared to. I’m scared. I’m going to cross the street.”

“He cant get out.”

I wasn’t crying.

“Don’t be a ’fraid cat. Come on.”

They came on in the twilight. I wasn’t crying, and I held to the gate. They came slow.

“I’m scared.”

“He wont hurt you. I pass here every day. He just runs along the fence.”

They came on. I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say, and I caught her, trying to say, and she screamed and I was trying to say and trying and the bright shapes began to stop and I tried to get out. I tried to get it off of my face, but the bright shapes were going again. They were going up the hill to where it fell away and I tried to cry. But when I breathed in, I couldn’t breathe out again to cry, and I tried to keep from falling off the hill and I fell off the hill into the bright, whirling shapes.

Here, loony, Luster said. Here come some. Hush your slobbering and moaning, now.

They came to the flag. He took it out and they hit, then he put the flag back.

“Mister.” Luster said.

He looked around. “What.” he said.

“Want to buy a golf ball.” Luster said.

“Let’s see it.” he said. He came to the fence and Luster reached the ball through.

“Where’d you get it.” he said.

“Found it.” Luster said.

“I know that.” he said. “Where. In somebody’s golf bag.”

“I found it laying over here in the yard.” Luster said. “I’ll take a quarter for it.”

“What makes you think it’s yours.” he said.

“I found it.” Luster said.

“Then find yourself another one.” he said. He put it in his pocket and went away.

“I got to go to that show tonight.” Luster said.

“That so.” he said. He went to the table. “Fore, caddie.” he said. He hit.

“I’ll declare.” Luster said. “You fusses when you dont see them and you fusses when you does. Why cant you hush. Dont you reckon folks gets tired of listening to you all the time. Here. You dropped your jimson weed.” He picked it up and gave it back to me. “You needs a new one. You ’bout wore that one out.” We stood at the fence and watched them.

“That white man hard to get along with.” Luster said. “You see him take my ball.” They went on. We went on along the fence. We came to the garden and we couldn’t go any further. I held to the fence and looked through the flower spaces. They went away.

“Now you aint got nothing to moan about.” Luster said. “Hush up. I the one got something to moan over, you aint. Here. Whyn’t you hold on to that weed. You be bellering about it next.” He gave me the flower. “Where you heading now.”

Our shadows were on the grass. They got to the trees before we did. Mine got there first. Then we got there, and then the shadows were gone. There was a flower in the bottle. I put the other flower in it.

“Aint you a grown man, now.” Luster said. “Playing with two weeds in a bottle. You know what they going to do with you when Miss Cahline die. They going to send you to Jackson, where you belong. Mr Jason say so. Where you can hold the bars all day long with the rest of the loonies and slobber. How you like that.”

Luster knocked the flowers over with his hand. “That’s what they’ll do to you at Jackson when you starts bellering.”

I tried to pick up the flowers. Luster picked them up, and they went away. I began to cry.

“Beller.” Luster said. “Beller. You want something to beller about. All right, then. Caddy.” he whispered. “Caddy. Beller now. Caddy.”

“Luster.” Dilsey said from the kitchen.

The flowers came back.

“Hush.” Luster said. “Here they is. Look. It’s fixed back just like it was at first. Hush, now.”

“You, Luster.” Dilsey said.

“Yessum.” Luster said. “We coming. You done played hell. Get up.” He jerked my arm and I got up. We went out of the trees. Our shadows were gone.

“Hush.” Luster said. “Look at all them folks watching you. Hush.”

“You bring him on here.” Dilsey said. She came down the steps.

“What you done to him now.” she said.

“Aint done nothing to him.” Luster said. “He just started bellering.”

“Yes you is.” Dilsey said. “You done something to him. Where you been.”

“Over yonder under them cedars.” Luster said.

“Getting Quentin all riled up.” Dilsey said. “Why can’t you keep him away from her. Dont you know she dont like him where she at.”

“Got as much time for him as I is.” Luster said. “He aint none of my uncle.”

“Dont you sass me, nigger boy.” Dilsey said.

“I aint done nothing to him.” Luster said. “He was playing there, and all of a sudden he started bellering.”

“Is you been projecking with his graveyard.” Dilsey said.

“I aint touched his graveyard.” Luster said.

“Dont lie to me, boy.” Dilsey said. We went up the steps and into the kitchen. Dilsey opened the firedoor and drew a chair up in front of it and I sat down. I hushed.

What you want to get her started for, Dilsey said. Whyn’t you keep him out of there.

He was just looking at the fire, Caddy said. Mother was telling him his new name. We didn’t mean to get her started.

I knows you didn’t, Dilsey said. Him at one end of the house and her at the other. You let my things alone, now. Dont you touch nothing till I get back.

“Aint you shamed of yourself.” Dilsey said. “Teasing him.” She set the cake on the table.

“I aint been teasing him.” Luster said. “He was playing with that bottle full of dogfennel and all of a sudden he started up bellering. You heard him.”

“You aint done nothing to his flowers.” Dilsey said.

“I aint touched his graveyard.” Luster said. “What I want with his truck. I was just hunting for that quarter.”

“You lost it, did you.” Dilsey said. She lit the candles on the cake. Some of them were little ones. Some were big ones cut into little pieces. “I told you to go put it away. Now I reckon you want me to get you another one from Frony.”

“I got to go to that show, Benjy or no Benjy.” Luster said. “I aint going to follow him around day and night both.”

“You going to do just what he want you to, nigger boy.” Dilsey said. “You hear me.”

“Aint I always done it.” Luster said. “Dont I always does what he wants. Dont I, Benjy.”

“Then you keep it up.” Dilsey said. “Bringing him in here, bawling and getting her started too. You all go ahead and eat this cake, now, before Jason come. I dont want him jumping on me about a cake I bought with my own money. Me baking a cake here, with him counting every egg that comes into this kitchen. See can you let him alone now, less you dont want to go to that show tonight.”

Dilsey went away.

“You cant blow out no candles.” Luster said. “Watch me blow them out.” He leaned down and puffed his face. The candles went away. I began to cry. “Hush.” Luster said. “Here. Look at the fire whiles I cuts this cake.”

I could hear the clock, and I could hear Caddy standing behind me, and I could hear the roof. It’s still raining, Caddy said. I hate rain. I hate everything. And then her head came into my lap and she was crying, holding me, and I began to cry. Then I looked at the fire again and the bright, smooth shapes went again. I could hear the clock and the roof and Caddy.

I ate some cake. Luster’s hand came and took another piece. I could hear him eating. I looked at the fire.

A long piece of wire came across my shoulder. It went to the door, and then the fire went away. I began to cry.

“What you howling for now.” Luster said. “Look there.” The fire was there. I hushed. “Cant you set and look at the fire and be quiet like mammy told you.” Luster said. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Here. Here’s you some more cake.”

“What you done to him now.” Dilsey said. “Cant you never let him alone.”

“I was just trying to get him to hush up and not sturb Miss Cahline.” Luster said. “Something got him started again.”

“And I know what that something name.” Dilsey said. “I’m going to get Versh to take a stick to you when he comes home. You just trying yourself. You been doing it all day. Did you take him down to the branch.”

“Nome.” Luster said. “We been right here in this yard all day, like you said.”

His hand came for another piece of cake. Dilsey hit his hand. “Reach it again, and I chop it right off with this here butcher knife.” Dilsey said. “I bet he aint had one piece of it.”

“Yes he is.” Luster said. “He already had twice as much as me. Ask him if he aint.”

“Reach hit one more time.” Dilsey said. “Just reach it.”

That’s right, Dilsey said. I reckon it’ll be my time to cry next. Reckon Maury going to let me cry on him a while, too.

His name’s Benjy now, Caddy said.

How come it is, Dilsey said. He aint wore out the name he was born with yet, is he.

Benjamin came out of the bible, Caddy said. It’s a better name for him than Maury was.

How come it is, Dilsey said.

Mother says it is, Caddy said.

Huh, Dilsey said. Name aint going to help him. Hurt him, neither. Folks dont have no luck, changing names. My name been Dilsey since fore I could remember and it be Dilsey when they’s long forgot me.

How will they know it’s Dilsey, when it’s long forgot, Dilsey, Caddy said.

It’ll be in the Book, honey, Dilsey said. Writ out.

Can you read it, Caddy said.

Wont have to, Dilsey said. They’ll read it for me. All I got to do is say Ise here.

The long wire came across my shoulder, and the fire went away. I began to cry.

Dilsey and Luster fought.

“I seen you.” Dilsey said. “Oho, I seen you.” She dragged Luster out of the corner, shaking him. “Wasn’t nothing bothering him, was they. You just wait till your pappy come home. I wish I was young like I use to be, I’d tear them years right off your head. I good mind to lock you up in that cellar and not let you go to that show tonight, I sho is.”

“Ow, mammy.” Luster said. “Ow, mammy.”

I put my hand out to where the fire had been.

“Catch him.” Dilsey said. “Catch him back.”

My hand jerked back and I put it in my mouth and Dilsey caught me. I could still hear the clock between my voice. Dilsey reached back and hit Luster on the head. My voice was going loud every time.

“Get that soda.” Dilsey said. She took my hand out of my mouth. My voice went louder then and my hand tried to go back to my mouth, but Dilsey held it. My voice went loud. She sprinkled soda on my hand.

“Look in the pantry and tear a piece off of that rag hanging on the nail.” she said. “Hush, now. You dont want to make your ma sick again, does you. Here, look at the fire. Dilsey make your hand stop hurting in just a minute. Look at the fire.” She opened the fire door. I looked at the fire, but my hand didn’t stop and I didn’t stop. My hand was trying to go to my mouth but Dilsey held it.

She wrapped the cloth around it. Mother said,

“What is it now. Cant I even be sick in peace. Do I have to get up out of bed to come down to him, with two grown negroes to take care of him.”

“He all right now.” Dilsey said. “He going to quit. He just burnt his hand a little.”

“With two grown negroes, you must bring him into the house, bawling.” Mother said. “You got him started on purpose, because you know I’m sick.” She came and stood by me. “Hush.” she said. “Right this minute. Did you give him this cake.”

“I bought it.” Dilsey said. “It never come out of Jason’s pantry. I fixed him some birthday.”

“Do you want to poison him with that cheap store cake.” Mother said. “Is that what you are trying to do. Am I never to have one minute’s peace.”

“You go on back up stairs and lay down.” Dilsey said. “It’ll quit smarting him in a minute now, and he’ll hush. Come on, now.”

“And leave him down here for you all to do something else to.” Mother said. “How can I lie there, with him bawling down here. Benjamin. Hush this minute.”

“They aint nowhere else to take him.” Dilsey said. “We aint got the room we use to have. He cant stay out in the yard, crying where all the neighbors can see him.”

“I know, I know.” Mother said. “It’s all my fault. I’ll be gone soon, and you and Jason will both get along better.” She began to cry.

“You hush that, now.” Dilsey said. “You’ll get yourself down again. You come on back up stairs. Luster going to take him to the liberry and play with him till I get his supper done.”

Dilsey and Mother went out.

“Hush up.” Luster said. “You hush up. You want me to burn your other hand for you. You aint hurt. Hush up.”

“Here.” Dilsey said. “Stop crying, now.” She gave me the slipper, and I hushed. “Take him to the library.” she said. “And if I hear him again, I going to whip you myself.”

We went to the library. Luster turned on the light. The windows went black, and the dark tall place on the wall came and I went and touched it. It was like a door, only it wasn’t a door.

The fire came behind me and I went to the fire and sat on the floor, holding the slipper. The fire went higher. It went onto the cushion in Mother’s chair.

“Hush up.” Luster said. “Cant you never get done for a while. Here I done built you a fire, and you wont even look at it.”

Your name is Benjy. Caddy said. Do you hear. Benjy. Benjy.

Dont tell him that, Mother said. Bring him here.

Caddy lifted me under the arms.

Get up, Mau—— I mean Benjy, she said.

Dont try to carry him, Mother said. Cant you lead him over here. Is that too much for you to think of.

I can carry him, Caddy said. “Let me carry him up, Dilsey.”

“Go on, Minute.” Dilsey said. “You aint big enough to tote a flea. You go on and be quiet, like Mr Jason said.”

There was a light at the top of the stairs. Father was there, in his shirt sleeves. The way he looked said Hush. Caddy whispered,

“Is Mother sick.”

Versh set me down and we went into Mother’s room. There was a fire. It was rising and falling on the walls. There was another fire in the mirror. I could smell the sickness. It was a cloth folded on Mother’s head. Her hair was on the pillow. The fire didn’t reach it, but it shone on her hand, where her rings were jumping.

“Come and tell Mother goodnight.” Caddy said. We went to the bed. The fire went out of the mirror. Father got up from the bed and lifted me up and Mother put her hand on my head.

“What time is it.” Mother said. Her eyes were closed.

“Ten minutes to seven.” Father said.

“It’s too early for him to go to bed.” Mother said. “He’ll wake up at daybreak, and I simply cannot bear another day like today.”

“There, there.” Father said. He touched Mother’s face.

“I know I’m nothing but a burden to you.” Mother said. “But I’ll be gone soon. Then you will be rid of my bothering.”

“Hush.” Father said. “I’ll take him downstairs awhile.” He took me up. “Come on, old fellow. Let’s go downstairs awhile. We’ll have to be quiet while Quentin is studying, now.”

Caddy went and leaned her face over the bed and Mother’s hand came into the firelight. Her rings jumped on Caddy’s back.

Mother’s sick, Father said. Dilsey will put you to bed. Where’s Quentin.

Versh getting him, Dilsey said.

Father stood and watched us go past. We could hear Mother in her room. Caddy said “Hush.” Jason was still climbing the stairs. He had his hands in his pockets.

“You all must be good tonight.” Father said. “And be quiet, so you wont disturb Mother.”

“We’ll be quiet.” Caddy said. “You must be quiet now, Jason.” she said. We tiptoed.

We could hear the roof. I could see the fire in the mirror too. Caddy lifted me again.

“Come on, now.” she said. “Then you can come back to the fire. Hush, now.”

“Candace.” Mother said.

“Hush, Benjy.” Caddy said. “Mother wants you a minute. Like a good boy. Then you can come back, Benjy.”

Caddy let me down, and I hushed.

“Let him stay here, Mother. When he’s through looking at the fire, then you can tell him.”

“Candace.” Mother said. Caddy stooped and lifted me. We staggered. “Candace.” Mother said.

“Hush.” Caddy said. “You can still see it. Hush.”

“Bring him here.” Mother said. “He’s too big for you to carry. You must stop trying. You’ll injure your back. All of our women have prided themselves on their carriage. Do you want to look like a washer-woman.”

“He’s not too heavy.” Caddy said. “I can carry him.”

“Well, I dont want him carried, then.” Mother said. “A five year old child. No, no. Not in my lap. Let him stand up.”

“If you’ll hold him, he’ll stop.” Caddy said. “Hush.” she said. “You can go right back. Here. Here’s your cushion. See.”

“Dont, Candace.” Mother said.

“Let him look at it and he’ll be quiet.” Caddy said. “Hold up just a minute while I slip it out. There, Benjy. Look.”

I looked at it and hushed.

“You humour him too much.” Mother said. “You and your father both. You dont realise that I am the one who has to pay for it. Damuddy spoiled Jason that way and it took him two years to outgrow it, and I am not strong enough to go through the same thing with Benjamin.”

“You dont need to bother with him.” Caddy said. “I like to take care of him. Dont I, Benjy.”

“Candace.” Mother said. “I told you not to call him that. It was bad enough when your father insisted on calling you by that silly nickname, and I will not have him called by one. Nicknames are vulgar. Only common people use them. Benjamin.” she said.

“Look at me.” Mother said.

“Benjamin.” she said. She took my face in her hands and turned it to hers.

“Benjamin.” she said. “Take that cushion away, Candace.”

“He’ll cry.” Caddy said.

“Take that cushion away, like I told you.” Mother said. “He must learn to mind.”

The cushion went away.

“Hush, Benjy.” Caddy said.

“You go over there and sit down.” Mother said. “Benjamin.” She held my face to hers.

“Stop that.” she said. “Stop it.”

But I didn’t stop and Mother caught me in her arms and began to cry, and I cried. Then the cushion came back and Caddy held it above Mother’s head. She drew Mother back in the chair and Mother lay crying against the red and yellow cushion.

“Hush, Mother.” Caddy said. “You go upstairs and lay down, so you can be sick. I’ll go get Dilsey.” She led me to the fire and I looked at the bright, smooth shapes. I could hear the fire and the roof.

Father took me up. He smelled like rain.

“Well, Benjy.” he said. “Have you been a good boy today.”

Caddy and Jason were fighting in the mirror.

“You, Caddy.” Father said.

They fought. Jason began to cry.

“Caddy.” Father said. Jason was crying. He wasn’t fighting any more, but we could see Caddy fighting in the mirror and Father put me down and went into the mirror and fought too. He lifted Caddy up. She fought. Jason lay on the floor, crying. He had the scissors in his hand. Father held Caddy.

“He cut up all Benjy’s dolls.” Caddy said. “I’ll slit his gizzle.”

“Candace.” Father said.

“I will.” Caddy said. “I will.” She fought. Father held her. She kicked at Jason. He rolled into the corner, out of the mirror. Father brought Caddy to the fire. They were all out of the mirror. Only the fire was in it. Like the fire was in a door.

“Stop that.” Father said. “Do you want to make Mother sick in her room.”

Caddy stopped. “He cut up all the dolls Mau—Benjy and I made.” Caddy said. “He did it just for meanness.”

“I didn’t.” Jason said. He was sitting up, crying. “I didn’t know they were his. I just thought they were some old papers.”

“You couldn’t help but know.” Caddy said. “You did it just.”

“Hush.” Father said. “Jason.” he said.

“I’ll make you some more tomorrow.” Caddy said. “We’ll make a lot of them. Here, you can look at the cushion, too.”

Jason came in.

I kept telling you to hush, Luster said.

What’s the matter now, Jason said.

“He just trying hisself.” Luster said. “That the way he been going on all day.”

“Why dont you let him alone, then.” Jason said. “If you cant keep him quiet, you’ll have to take him out to the kitchen. The rest of us cant shut ourselves up in a room like Mother does.”

“Mammy say keep him out the kitchen till she get supper.” Luster said.

“Then play with him and keep him quiet.” Jason said. “Do I have to work all day and then come home to a mad house.” He opened the paper and read it.

You can look at the fire and the mirror and the cushion too, Caddy said. You wont have to wait until supper to look at the cushion, now. We could hear the roof. We could hear Jason too, crying loud beyond the wall.

Dilsey said, “You come, Jason. You letting him alone, is you.”

“Yessum.” Luster said.

“Where Quentin.” Dilsey said. “Supper near bout ready.”

“I dont know’m.” Luster said. “I aint seen her.”

Dilsey went away. “Quentin.” she said in the hall. “Quentin. Supper ready.”

We could hear the roof. Quentin smelled like rain, too.

What did Jason do, he said.

He cut up all Benjy’s dolls, Caddy said.

Mother said to not call him Benjy, Quentin said. He sat on the rug by us. I wish it wouldn’t rain, he said. You cant do anything.

You’ve been in a fight, Caddy said. Haven’t you.

It wasn’t much, Quentin said.

You can tell it, Caddy said. Father’ll see it.

I dont care, Quentin said. I wish it wouldn’t rain.

Quentin said, “Didn’t Dilsey say supper was ready.”

“Yessum.” Luster said. Jason looked at Quentin. Then he read the paper again. Quentin came in. “She say it bout ready.” Luster said. Quentin jumped down in Mother’s chair. Luster said,

“Mr Jason.”

“What.” Jason said.

“Let me have two bits.” Luster said.

“What for.” Jason said.

“To go to the show tonight.” Luster said.

“I thought Dilsey was going to get a quarter from Frony for you.” Jason said.

“She did.” Luster said. “I lost it. Me and Benjy hunted all day for that quarter. You can ask him.”

“Then borrow one from him.” Jason said. “I have to work for mine.” He read the paper. Quentin looked at the fire. The fire was in her eyes and on her mouth. Her mouth was red.

“I tried to keep him away from there.” Luster said.

“Shut your mouth.” Quentin said. Jason looked at her.

“What did I tell you I was going to do if I saw you with that show fellow again.” he said. Quentin looked at the fire. “Did you hear me.” Jason said.

“I heard you.” Quentin said. “Why dont you do it, then.”

“Dont you worry.” Jason said.

“I’m not.” Quentin said. Jason read the paper again.

I could hear the roof. Father leaned forward and looked at Quentin.

Hello, he said. Who won.

“Nobody.” Quentin said. “They stopped us. Teachers.”

“Who was it.” Father said. “Will you tell.”

“It was all right.” Quentin said. “He was as big as me.”

“That’s good.” Father said. “Can you tell what it was about.”

“It wasn’t anything.” Quentin said. “He said he would put a frog in her desk and she wouldn’t dare to whip him.”

“Oh.” Father said. “She. And then what.”

“Yes, sir.” Quentin said. “And then I kind of hit him.”

We could hear the roof and the fire, and a snuffling outside the door.

“Where was he going to get a frog in November.” Father said.

“I dont know, sir.” Quentin said.

We could hear them.

“Jason.” Father said. We could hear Jason.

“Jason.” Father said. “Come in here and stop that.”

We could hear the roof and the fire and Jason.

“Stop that, now.” Father said. “Do you want me to whip you again.” Father lifted Jason up into the chair by him. Jason snuffled. We could hear the fire and the roof. Jason snuffled a little louder.

“One more time.” Father said. We could hear the fire and the roof.

Dilsey said, All right. You all can come on to supper.

Versh smelled like rain. He smelled like a dog, too. We could hear the fire and the roof.

We could hear Caddy walking fast. Father and Mother looked at the door. Caddy passed it, walking fast. She didn’t look. She walked fast.

“Candace.” Mother said. Caddy stopped walking.

“Yes, Mother.” she said.

“Hush, Caroline.” Father said.

“Come here.” Mother said.

“Hush, Caroline.” Father said. “Let her alone.”

Caddy came to the door and stood there, looking at Father and Mother. Her eyes flew at me, and away. I began to cry. It went loud and I got up. Caddy came in and stood with her back to the wall, looking at me. I went toward her, crying, and she shrank against the wall and I saw her eyes and I cried louder and pulled at her dress. She put her hands out but I pulled at her dress. Her eyes ran.

Versh said, Your name Benjamin now. You know how come your name Benjamin now. They making a bluegum out of you. Mammy say in old time your granpa changed nigger’s name, and he turn preacher, and when they look at him, he bluegum too. Didn’t use to be bluegum, neither. And when family woman look him in the eye in the full of the moon, chile born bluegum. And one evening, when they was about a dozen them bluegum chillen running round the place, he never come home. Possum hunters found him in the woods, et clean. And you know who et him. Them bluegum chillen did.

We were in the hall. Caddy was still looking at me. Her hand was against her mouth and I saw her eyes and I cried. We went up the stairs. She stopped again, against the wall, looking at me and I cried and she went on and I came on, crying, and she shrank against the wall, looking at me. She opened the door to her room, but I pulled at her dress and we went to the bathroom and she stood against the door, looking at me. Then she put her arm across her face and I pushed at her, crying.

What are you doing to him, Jason said. Why cant you let him alone.

I aint touching him, Luster said. He been doing this way all day long. He needs whipping.

He needs to be sent to Jackson, Quentin said. How can anybody live in a house like this.

If you dont like it, young lady, you’d better get out, Jason said.

I’m going to, Quentin said. Dont you worry.

Versh said, “You move back some, so I can dry my legs off.” He shoved me back a little. “Dont you start bellering, now. You can still see it. That’s all you have to do. You aint had to be out in the rain like I is. You’s born lucky and dont know it.” He lay on his back before the fire.

“You know how come your name Benjamin now.” Versh said. “Your mamma too proud for you. What mammy say.”

“You be still there and let me dry my legs off.” Versh said. “Or you know what I’ll do. I’ll skin your rinktum.”

We could hear the fire and the roof and Versh.

Versh got up quick and jerked his legs back. Father said, “All right, Versh.”

“I’ll feed him tonight.” Caddy said. “Sometimes he cries when Versh feeds him.”

“Take this tray up,” Dilsey said. “And hurry back and feed Benjy.”

“Dont you want Caddy to feed you.” Caddy said.

Has he got to keep that old dirty slipper on the table, Quentin said. Why dont you feed him in the kitchen. It’s like eating with a pig.

If you dont like the way we eat, you’d better not come to the table, Jason said.

Steam came off of Roskus. He was sitting in front of the stove. The oven door was open and Roskus had his feet in it. Steam came off the bowl. Caddy put the spoon into my mouth easy. There was a black spot on the inside of the bowl.

Now, now, Dilsey said. He aint going to bother you no more.

It got down below the mark. Then the bowl was empty. It went away. “He’s hungry tonight.” Caddy said. The bowl came back. I couldn’t see the spot. Then I could. “He’s starved, tonight.” Caddy said. “Look how much he’s eaten.”

Yes he will, Quentin said. You all send him out to spy on me. I hate this house. I’m going to run away.

Roskus said, “It going to rain all night.”

You’ve been running a long time, not to ’ve got any further off than mealtime, Jason said.

See if I dont, Quentin said.

“Then I dont know what I going to do.” Dilsey said. “It caught me in the hip so bad now I cant scarcely move. Climbing them stairs all evening.”

Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised, Jason said. I wouldn’t be surprised at anything you’d do.

Quentin threw her napkin on the table.

Hush your mouth, Jason, Dilsey said. She went and put her arm around Quentin. Sit down, honey, Dilsey said. He ought to be shamed of hisself, throwing what aint your fault up to you.

“She sulling again, is she.” Roskus said.

“Hush your mouth.” Dilsey said.

Quentin pushed Dilsey away. She looked at Jason. Her mouth was red. She picked up her glass of water and swung her arm back, looking at Jason. Dilsey caught her arm. They fought. The glass broke on the table, and the water ran into the table. Quentin was running.

“Mother’s sick again.” Caddy said.

“Sho she is.” Dilsey said. “Weather like this make anybody sick. When you going to get done eating, boy.”

Goddamn you, Quentin said. Goddamn you. We could hear her running on the stairs. We went to the library.

Caddy gave me the cushion, and I could look at the cushion and the mirror and the fire.

“We must be quiet while Quentin’s studying.” Father said. “What are you doing, Jason.”

“Nothing.” Jason said.

“Suppose you come over here to do it, then.” Father said.

Jason came out of the corner.

“What are you chewing.” Father said.

“Nothing.” Jason said.

“He’s chewing paper again.” Caddy said.

“Come here, Jason.” Father said.

Jason threw into the fire. It hissed, uncurled, turning black. Then it was gray. Then it was gone. Caddy and Father and Jason were in Mother’s chair. Jason’s eyes were puffed shut and his mouth moved, like tasting. Caddy’s head was on Father’s shoulder. Her hair was like fire, and little points of fire were in her eyes, and I went and Father lifted me into the chair too, and Caddy held me. She smelled like trees.

She smelled like trees. In the corner it was dark, but I could see the window. I squatted there, holding the slipper. I couldn’t see it, but my hands saw it, and I could hear it getting night, and my hands saw the slipper but I couldn’t see myself, but my hands could see the slipper and I squatted there, hearing it getting dark.

Here you is, Luster said. Look what I got. He showed it to me. You know where I got it. Miss Quentin gave it to me. I knowed they couldn’t keep me out. What you doing, off in here. I thought you done slipped back out doors. Aint you done enough moaning and slobbering today, without hiding off in this here empty room, mumbling and taking on. Come on here to bed, so I can get up there before it starts. I cant fool with you all night tonight. Just let them horns toot the first toot and I done gone.

We didn’t go to our room.

“This is where we have the measles.” Caddy said. “Why do we have to sleep in here tonight.”

“What you care where you sleep.” Dilsey said. She shut the door and sat down and began to undress me. Jason began to cry. “Hush.” Dilsey said.

“I want to sleep with Damuddy.” Jason said.

“She’s sick.” Caddy said. “You can sleep with her when she gets well. Cant he, Dilsey.”

“Hush, now.” Dilsey said. Jason hushed.

“Our nighties are here, and everything.” Caddy said. “It’s like moving.”

“And you better get into them.” Dilsey said. “You be unbuttoning Jason.”

Caddy unbuttoned Jason. He began to cry.

“You want to get whipped.” Dilsey said. Jason hushed.

Quentin, Mother said in the hall.

What, Quentin said beyond the wall. We heard Mother lock the door. She looked in our door and came in and stooped over the bed and kissed me on the forehead.

When you get him to bed, go and ask Dilsey if she objects to my having a hot water bottle, Mother said. Tell her that if she does, I’ll try to get along without it. Tell her I just want to know.

Yessum, Luster said. Come on. Get your pants off.

Quentin and Versh came in. Quentin had his face turned away. “What are you crying for.” Caddy said.

“Hush.” Dilsey said. “You all get undressed, now. You can go on home, Versh.”

I got undressed and I looked at myself, and I began to cry. Hush, Luster said. Looking for them aint going to do no good. They’re gone. You keep on like this, and we aint going have you no more birthday. He put my gown on. I hushed, and then Luster stopped, his head toward the window. Then he went to the window and looked out. He came back and took my arm. Here she come, he said. Be quiet, now. We went to the window and looked out. It came out of Quentin’s window and climbed across into the tree. We watched the tree shaking. The shaking went down the tree, then it came out and we watched it go away across the grass. Then we couldn’t see it. Come on, Luster said. There now. Hear them horns. You get in that bed while my foots behaves.

There were two beds. Quentin got in the other one. He turned his face to the wall. Dilsey put Jason in with him. Caddy took her dress off.

“Just look at your drawers.” Dilsey said. “You better be glad your ma aint seen you.”

“I already told on her.” Jason said.

“I bound you would.” Dilsey said.

“And see what you got by it.” Caddy said. “Tattletale.”

“What did I get by it.” Jason said.

“Whyn’t you get your nightie on.” Dilsey said. She went and helped Caddy take off her bodice and drawers. “Just look at you.” Dilsey said. She wadded the drawers and scrubbed Caddy behind with them. “It done soaked clean through onto you.” she said. “But you wont get no bath this night. Here.” She put Caddy’s nightie on her and Caddy climbed into the bed and Dilsey went to the door and stood with her hand on the light. “You all be quiet now, you hear.” she said.

“All right.” Caddy said. “Mother’s not coming in tonight.” she said. “So we still have to mind me.”

“Yes.” Dilsey said. “Go to sleep, now.”

“Mother’s sick.” Caddy said. “She and Damuddy are both sick.”

“Hush.” Dilsey said. “You go to sleep.”

The room went black, except the door. Then the door went black. Caddy said, “Hush, Maury,” putting her hand on me. So I stayed hushed. We could hear us. We could hear the dark.

It went away, and Father looked at us. He looked at Quentin and Jason, then he came and kissed Caddy and put his hand on my head.

“Is Mother very sick.” Caddy said.

“No.” Father said. “Are you going to take good care of Maury.”

“Yes.” Caddy said.

Father went to the door and looked at us again. Then the dark came back, and he stood black in the door, and then the door turned black again. Caddy held me and I could hear us all, and the darkness, and something I could smell. And then I could see the windows, where the trees were buzzing. Then the dark began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like it always does, even when Caddy says that I have been asleep.

JUNE 2, 1910

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said, Quentin, I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excrutiating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

It was propped against the collar box and I lay listening to it. Hearing it, that is. I dont suppose anybody ever deliberately listens to a watch or a clock. You dont have to. You can be oblivious to the sound for a long while, then in a second of ticking it can create in the mind unbroken the long diminishing parade of time you didn’t hear. Like Father said down the long and lonely light-rays you might see Jesus walking, like. And the good Saint Francis that said Little Sister Death, that never had a sister.

Through the wall I heard Shreve’s bed-springs and then his slippers on the floor hishing. I got up and went to the dresser and slid my hand along it and touched the watch and turned it face-down and went back to bed. But the shadow of the sash was still there and I had learned to tell almost to the minute, so I’d have to turn my back to it, feeling the eyes animals used to have in the back of their heads when it was on top, itching. It’s always the idle habits you acquire which you will regret. Father said that. That Christ was not crucified: he was worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels. That had no sister.

And so as soon as I knew I couldn’t see it, I began to wonder what time it was. Father said that constant speculation regarding the position of mechanical hands on an arbitrary dial which is a symptom of mind-function. Excrement Father said like sweating. And I saying All right. Wonder. Go on and wonder.

If it had been cloudy I could have looked at the window, thinking what he said about idle habits. Thinking it would be nice for them down at New London if the weather held up like this. Why shouldn’t it? The mouth of brides, the voice that breathed She ran right out of the mirror, out of the banked scent. Roses. Roses. Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce the marriage of. Roses. Not virgins like dogwood, milkweed. I said I have committed incest, Father I said. Roses. Cunning and serene. If you attend Harvard one year, but dont see the boat race, there should be a refund. Let Jason have it. Give Jason a year at Harvard.

Shreve stood in the door, putting his collar on, his glasses glinting rosily, as though he had washed them with his face. “You taking a cut this morning?”

“Is it that late?”

He looked at his watch. “Bell in two minutes.”

“I didn’t know it was that late.” He was still looking at the watch, his mouth shaping. “I’ll have to hustle. I cant stand another cut. The dean told me last week—” He put the watch back into his pocket. Then I quit talking.

“You’d better slip on your pants and run,” he said. He went out.

I got up and moved about, listening to him through the wall. He entered the sitting room, toward the door.

“Aren’t you ready yet?”

“Not yet. Run along. I’ll make it.”

He went out. The door closed. His feet went down the corridor. Then I could hear the watch again. I quit moving around and went to the window and drew the curtains aside and watched them running for chapel, the same ones fighting the same heaving coatsleeves, the same books and flapping collars flushing past like debris on a flood, and Spoade. Calling Shreve my husband. Ah let him alone, Shreve said, if he’s got better sense than to chase after the little dirty sluts, whose business. In the South you are ashamed of being a virgin. Boys. Men. They lie about it. Because it means less to women, Father said. He said it was men invented virginity not women. Father said it’s like death: only a state in which the others are left and I said, But to believe it doesn’t matter and he said, That’s what’s so sad about anything: not only virginity, and I said, Why couldn’t it have been me and not her who is unvirgin and he said, That’s why that’s sad too; nothing is even worth the changing of it, and Shreve said if he’s got better sense than to chase after the little dirty sluts and I said Did you ever have a sister? Did you? Did you?

Spoade was in the middle of them like a terrapin in a street full of scuttering dead leaves, his collar about his ears, moving at his customary unhurried walk. He was from South Carolina, a senior. It was his club’s boast that he never ran for chapel and had never got there on time and had never been absent in four years and had never made either chapel or first lecture with a shirt on his back and socks on his feet. About ten oclock he’d come in Thompson’s, get two cups of coffee, sit down and take his socks out of his pocket and remove his shoes and put them on while the coffee cooled. About noon you’d see him with a shirt and collar on, like anybody else. The others passed him running, but he never increased his pace at all. After a while the quad was empty.

A sparrow slanted across the sunlight, onto the window ledge, and cocked his head at me. His eye was round and bright. First he’d watch me with one eye, then flick! and it would be the other one, his throat pumping faster than any pulse. The hour began to strike. The sparrow quit swapping eyes and watched me steadily with the same one until the chimes ceased, as if he were listening too. Then he flicked off the ledge and was gone.

It was a while before the last stroke ceased vibrating. It stayed in the air, more felt than heard, for a long time. Like all the bells that ever rang still ringing in the long dying light-rays and Jesus and Saint Francis talking about his sister. Because if it were just to hell; if that were all of it. Finished. If things just finished themselves. Nobody else there but her and me. If we could just have done something so dreadful that they would have fled hell except us. I have committed incest I said Father it was I it was not Dalton Ames And when he put Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. When he put the pistol in my hand I didn’t. That’s why I didn’t. He would be there and she would and I would. Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. If we could have just done something so dreadful and Father said That’s sad too, people cannot do anything that dreadful they cannot do anything very dreadful at all they cannot even remember tomorrow what seemed dreadful today and I said, You can shirk all things and he said, Ah can you. And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand. Until on the Day when He says Rise only the flatiron would come floating up. It’s not when you realise that nothing can help you—religion, pride, anything—it’s when you realise that you dont need any aid. Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. If I could have been his mother lying with open body lifted laughing, holding his father with my hand refraining, seeing, watching him die before he lived. One minute she was standing in the door

I went to the dresser and took up the watch, with the face still down. I tapped the crystal on the corner of the dresser and caught the fragments of glass in my hand and put them into the ashtray and twisted the hands off and put them in the tray. The watch ticked on. I turned the face up, the blank dial with little wheels clicking and clicking behind it, not knowing any better. Jesus walking on Galilee and Washington not telling lies. Father brought back a watch-charm from the Saint Louis Fair to Jason: a tiny opera glass into which you squinted with one eye and saw a skyscraper, a ferris wheel all spidery, Niagara Falls on a pinhead. There was a red smear on the dial. When I saw it my thumb began to smart. I put the watch down and went into Shreve’s room and got the iodine and painted the cut. I cleaned the rest of the glass out of the rim with the towel.

I laid out two suits of underwear, with socks, shirts, collars and ties, and packed my trunk. I put in everything except my new suit and an old one and two pairs of shoes and two hats, and my books. I carried the books into the sitting-room and stacked them on the table, the ones I had brought from home and the ones Father said it used to be a gentleman was known by his books; nowadays he is known by the ones he has not returned and locked the trunk and addressed it. The quarter hour sounded. I stopped and listened to it until the chimes ceased.

I bathed and shaved. The water made my finger smart a little, so I painted it again. I put on my new suit and put my watch on and packed the other suit and the accessories and my razor and brushes in my hand bag, and wrapped the trunk key into a sheet of paper and put it in an envelope and addressed it to Father, and wrote the two notes and sealed them.

The shadow hadn’t quite cleared the stoop. I stopped inside the door, watching the shadow move. It moved almost perceptibly, creeping back inside the door, driving the shadow back into the door. Only she was running already when I heard it. In the mirror she was running before I knew what it was. That quick, her train caught up over her arm she ran out of the mirror like a cloud, her veil swirling in long glints her heels brittle and fast clutching her dress onto her shoulder with the other hand, running out of the mirror the smells roses roses the voice that breathed o’er Eden. Then she was across the porch I couldn’t hear her heels then in the moonlight like a cloud, the floating shadow of the veil running across the grass, into the bellowing. She ran out of her dress, clutching her bridal, running into the bellowing where T. P. in the dew Whooey Sassprilluh Benjy under the box bellowing. Father had a V-shaped silver cuirass on his running chest

Shreve said, “Well, you didn’t. . . . Is it a wedding or a wake?”

“I couldn’t make it,” I said.

“Not with all that primping. What’s the matter? You think this was Sunday?”

“I reckon the police wont get me for wearing my new suit one time,” I said.

“I was thinking about the Square students. Have you got too proud to attend classes too?”

“I’m going to eat first.” The shadow on the stoop was gone. I stepped into sunlight, finding my shadow again. I walked down the steps just ahead of it. The half hour went. Then the chimes ceased and died away.

Deacon wasn’t at the postoffice either. I stamped the two envelopes and mailed the one to Father and put Shreve’s in my inside pocket, and then I remembered where I had last seen the Deacon. It was on Decoration Day, in a G. A. R. uniform, in the middle of the parade. If you waited long enough on any corner you would see him in whatever parade came along. The one before was on Columbus’ or Garibaldi’s or somebody’s birthday. He was in the Street Sweeper’s section, in a stovepipe hat, carrying a two inch Italian flag, smoking a cigar among the brooms and scoops. But the last time was the G. A. R. one, because Shreve said:

“There now. Just look at what your grandpa did to that poor old nigger.”

“Yes,” I said, “Now he can spend day after day marching in parades. If it hadn’t been for my grandfather, he’d have to work like whitefolks.”

I didn’t see him anywhere. But I never knew even a working nigger that you could find when you wanted him, let alone one that lived off the fat of the land. A car came along. I went over to town and went to Parker’s and had a good breakfast. While I was eating I heard a clock strike the hour. But then I suppose it takes at least one hour to lose time in, who has been longer than history getting into the mechanical progression of it.

When I finished breakfast I bought a cigar. The girl said a fifty cent one was the best, so I took one and lit it and went out to the street. I stood there and took a couple of puffs, then I held it in my hand and went on toward the corner. I passed a jeweller’s window, but I looked away in time. At the corner two bootblacks caught me, one on either side, shrill and raucous, like blackbirds. I gave the cigar to one of them, and the other one a nickel. Then they let me alone. The one with the cigar was trying to sell it to the other for the nickel.

There was a clock, high up in the sun, and I thought about how, when you dont want to do a thing, your body will try to trick you into doing it, sort of unawares. I could feel the muscles in the back of my neck, and then I could hear my watch ticking away in my pocket and after a while I had all the other sounds shut away, leaving only the watch in my pocket. I turned back up the street, to the window. He was working at the table behind the window. He was going bald. There was a glass in his eye—a metal tube screwed into his face. I went in.

The place was full of ticking, like crickets in September grass, and I could hear a big clock on the wall above his head. He looked up, his eye big and blurred and rushing beyond the glass. I took mine out and handed it to him.

“I broke my watch.”

He flipped it over in his hand. “I should say you have. You must have stepped on it.”

“Yes, sir. I knocked it off the dresser and stepped on it in the dark. It’s still running though.”

He pried the back open and squinted into it. “Seems to be all right. I cant tell until I go over it, though. I’ll go into it this afternoon.”

“I’ll bring it back later,” I said. “Would you mind telling me if any of those watches in the window are right?”

He held my watch on his palm and looked up at me with his blurred rushing eye.

“I made a bet with a fellow,” I said, “And I forgot my glasses this morning.”

“Why, all right,” he said. He laid the watch down and half rose on his stool and looked over the barrier. Then he glanced up at the wall. “It’s twen—”

“Dont tell me,” I said, “please sir. Just tell me if any of them are right.”

He looked at me again. He sat back on the stool and pushed the glass up onto his forehead. It left a red circle around his eye and when it was gone his whole face looked naked. “What’re you celebrating today?” he said. “That boat race aint until next week, is it?”

“No, sir. This is just a private celebration. Birthday. Are any of them right?”

“No. But they haven’t been regulated and set yet. If you’re thinking of buying one of them—”

“No, sir. I dont need a watch. We have a clock in our sitting room. I’ll have this one fixed when I do.” I reached my hand.

“Better leave it now.”

“I’ll bring it back later.” He gave me the watch. I put it in my pocket. I couldn’t hear it now, above all the others. “I’m much obliged to you. I hope I haven’t taken up your time.”

“That’s all right. Bring it in when you are ready. And you better put off this celebration until after we win that boat race.”

“Yes, sir. I reckon I had.”

I went out, shutting the door upon the ticking. I looked back into the window. He was watching me across the barrier. There were about a dozen watches in the window, a dozen different hours and each with the same assertive and contradictory assurance that mine had, without any hands at all. Contradicting one another. I could hear mine, ticking away inside my pocket, even though nobody could see it, even though it could tell nothing if anyone could.

And so I told myself to take that one. Because Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. The hands were extended, slightly off the horizontal at a faint angle, like a gull tilting into the wind. Holding all I used to be sorry about like the new moon holding water, niggers say. The jeweller was working again, bent over his bench, the tube tunnelled into his face. His hair was parted in the center. The part ran up into the bald spot, like a drained marsh in December.

I saw the hardware store from across the street. I didn’t know you bought flatirons by the pound.

The clerk said, “These weigh ten pounds.” Only they were bigger than I thought. So I got two six-pound little ones, because they would look like a pair of shoes wrapped up. They felt heavy enough together, but I thought again how Father had said about the reducto absurdum of human experience, thinking how the only opportunity I seemed to have for the application of Harvard. Maybe by next year; thinking maybe it takes two years in school to learn to do that properly.

But they felt heavy enough in the air. A street car came. I got on. I didn’t see the placard on the front. It was full, mostly prosperous looking people reading newspapers. The only vacant seat was beside a nigger. He wore a derby and shined shoes and he was holding a dead cigar stub. I used to think that a Southerner had to be always conscious of niggers. I thought that Northerners would expect him to. When I first came East I kept thinking You’ve got to remember to think of them as coloured people not niggers, and if it hadn’t happened that I wasn’t thrown with many of them, I’d have wasted a lot of time and trouble before I learned that the best way to take all people, black or white, is to take them for what they think they are, then leave them alone. That was when I realised that a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behaviour; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among. But I thought at first that I ought to miss having a lot of them around me because I thought that Northerners thought I did, but I didn’t know that I really had missed Roskus and Dilsey and them until that morning in Virginia. The train was stopped when I waked and I raised the shade and looked out. The car was blocking a road crossing, where two white fences came down a hill and then sprayed outward and downward like part of the skeleton of a horn, and there was a nigger on a mule in the middle of the stiff ruts, waiting for the train to move. How long he had been there I didn’t know, but he sat straddle of the mule, his head wrapped in a piece of blanket, as if they had been built there with the fence and the road, or with the hill, carved out of the hill itself, like a sign put there saying You are home again. He didn’t have a saddle and his feet dangled almost to the ground. The mule looked like a rabbit. I raised the window.

“Hey, Uncle,” I said, “Is this the way?”

“Suh?” He looked at me, then he loosened the blanket and lifted it away from his ear.

“Christmas gift!” I said.

“Sho comin, boss. You done caught me, aint you?”

“I’ll let you off this time.” I dragged my pants out of the little hammock and got a quarter out. “But look out next time. I’ll be coming back through here two days after New Year, and look out then.” I threw the quarter out the window. “Buy yourself some Santy Claus.”

“Yes, suh,” he said. He got down and picked up the quarter and rubbed it on his leg. “Thanky, young marster. Thanky.” Then the train began to move. I leaned out the window, into the cold air, looking back. He stood there beside the gaunt rabbit of a mule, the two of them shabby and motionless and unimpatient. The train swung around the curve, the engine puffing with short, heavy blasts, and they passed smoothly from sight that way, with that quality about them of shabby and timeless patience, of static serenity: that blending of childlike and ready incompetence and paradoxical reliability that tends and protects them it loves out of all reason and robs them steadily and evades responsibility and obligations by means too barefaced to be called subterfuge even and is taken in theft or evasion with only that frank and spontaneous admiration for the victor which a gentleman feels for anyone who beats him in a fair contest, and withal a fond and unflagging tolerance for whitefolks’ vagaries like that of a grandparent for unpredictable and troublesome children, which I had forgotten. And all that day, while the train wound through rushing gaps and along ledges where movement was only a labouring sound of the exhaust and groaning wheels and the eternal mountains stood fading into the thick sky, I thought of home, of the bleak station and the mud and the niggers and country folks thronging slowly about the square, with toy monkeys and wagons and candy in sacks and roman candles sticking out, and my insides would move like they used to do in school when the bell rang.

I wouldn’t begin counting until the clock struck three. Then I would begin, counting to sixty and folding down one finger and thinking of the other fourteen fingers waiting to be folded down, or thirteen or twelve or eight or seven, until all of a sudden I’d realise silence and the unwinking minds, and I’d say “Ma’am?” “Your name is Quentin, isn’t it?” Miss Laura said. Then more silence and the cruel unwinking minds and hands jerking into the silence. “Tell Quentin who discovered the Mississippi River, Henry.” “DeSoto.” Then the minds would go away, and after a while I’d be afraid I had gotten behind and I’d count fast and fold down another finger, then I’d be afraid I was going too fast and I’d slow up, then I’d get afraid and count fast again. So I never could come out even with the bell, and the released surging of feet moving already, feeling earth in the scuffed floor, and the day like a pane of glass struck a light, sharp blow, and my insides would move, sitting still. Moving sitting still. One minute she was standing in the door. Benjy. Bellowing. Benjamin the child of mine old age bellowing. Caddy! Caddy!

I’m going to run away. He began to cry she went and touched him. Hush. I’m not going to. Hush. He hushed. Dilsey.

He smell what you tell him when he want to. Dont have to listen nor talk.

Can he smell that new name they give him? Can he smell bad luck?

What he want to worry about luck for? Luck cant do him no hurt.

What they change his name for then if aint trying to help his luck?

The street car stopped, started, stopped again. Below the window I watched the crowns of people’s heads passing beneath new straw hats not yet unbleached. There were women in the car now, with market baskets, and men in work-clothes were beginning to outnumber the shined shoes and collars.

The nigger touched my knee. “Pardon me,” he said. I swung my legs out and let him pass. We were going beside a blank wall, the sound clattering back into the car, at the women with market baskets on their knees and a man in a stained hat with a pipe stuck in the band. I could smell water, and in a break in the wall I saw a glint of water and two masts, and a gull motionless in midair, like on an invisible wire between the masts, and I raised my hand and through my coat touched the letters I had written. When the car stopped I got off.

The bridge was open to let a schooner through. She was in tow, the tug nudging along under her quarter, trailing smoke, but the ship herself was like she was moving without visible means. A man naked to the waist was coiling down a line on the fo’c’s’le head. His body was burned the colour of leaf tobacco. Another man in a straw hat without any crown was at the wheel. The ship went through the bridge, moving under bare poles like a ghost in broad day, with three gulls hovering above the stern like toys on invisible wires.

When it closed I crossed to the other side and leaned on the rail above the boathouses. The float was empty and the doors were closed. The crew just pulled in the late afternoon now, resting up before. The shadow of the bridge, the tiers of railing, my shadow leaning flat upon the water, so easily had I tricked it that it would not quit me. At least fifty feet it was, and if I only had something to blot it into the water, holding it until it was drowned, the shadow of the package like two shoes wrapped up lying on the water. Niggers say a drowned man’s shadow was watching for him in the water all the time. It twinkled and glinted, like breathing, the float slow like breathing too, and debris half submerged, healing out to the sea and the caverns and the grottoes of the sea. The displacement of water is equal to the something of something. Reducto absurdum of all human experience, and two six-pound flatirons weigh more than one tailor’s goose. What a sinful waste Dilsey would say. Benjy knew it when Damuddy died. He cried. He smell hit. He smell hit.

The tug came back downstream, the water shearing in long rolling cylinders, rocking the float at last with the echo of passage, the float lurching onto the rolling cylinder with a plopping sound and a long jarring noise as the door rolled back and two men emerged, carrying a shell. They set it in the water and a moment later Bland came out, with the sculls. He wore flannels, a grey jacket and a stiff straw hat. Either he or his mother had read somewhere that Oxford students pulled in flannels and stiff hats, so early one March they bought Gerald a one pair shell and in his flannels and stiff hat he went on the river. The folks at the boathouses threatened to call a policeman, but he went anyway. His mother came down in a hired auto, in a fur suit like an arctic explorer’s, and saw him off in a twenty-five mile wind and a steady drove of ice floes like dirty sheep. Ever since then I have believed that God is not only a gentleman and a sport; He is a Kentuckian too. When he sailed away she made a detour and came down to the river again and drove along parallel with him, the car in low gear. They said you couldn’t have told they’d ever seen one another before, like a King and Queen, not even looking at one another, just moving side by side across Massachusetts on parallel courses like a couple of planets.

He got in and pulled away. He pulled pretty well now. He ought to. They said his mother tried to make him give rowing up and do something else the rest of his class couldn’t or wouldn’t do, but for once he was stubborn. If you could call it stubbornness, sitting in his attitudes of princely boredom, with his curly yellow hair and his violet eyes and his eyelashes and his New York clothes, while his mamma was telling us about Gerald’s horses and Gerald’s niggers and Gerald’s women. Husbands and fathers in Kentucky must have been awful glad when she carried Gerald off to Cambridge. She had an apartment over in town, and Gerald had one there too, besides his rooms in college. She approved of Gerald associating with me because I at least revealed a blundering sense of noblesse oblige by getting myself born below Mason and Dixon, and a few others whose geography met the requirements (minimum) Forgave, at least. Or condoned. But since she met Spoade coming out of chapel one He said she couldn’t be a lady no lady would be out at that hour of the night she never had been able to forgive him for having five names, including that of a present English ducal house. I’m sure she solaced herself by being convinced that some misfit Maingault or Mortemar had got mixed up with the lodge-keeper’s daughter. Which was quite probable, whether she invented it or not. Spoade was the world’s champion sitter-around, no holds barred and gouging discretionary.

The shell was a speck now, the oars catching the sun in spaced glints, as if the hull were winking itself along. Did you ever have a sister? No but they’re all bitches. Did you ever have a sister? One minute she was. Bitches. Not bitch one minute she stood in the door Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. Dalton Shirts. I thought all the time they were khaki, army issue khaki, until I saw they were of heavy Chinese silk or finest flannel because they made his face so brown his eyes so blue. Dalton Ames. It just missed gentility. Theatrical fixture. Just papier-mache, then touch. Oh. Asbestos. Not quite bronze. But wont see him at the house.

Caddy’s a woman too, remember. She must do things for women’s reasons, too.

Why wont you bring him to the house, Caddy? Why must you do like nigger women do in the pasture the ditches the dark woods not hidden furious in the dark woods.

And after a while I had been hearing my watch for some time and I could feel the letters crackle through my coat, against the railing, and I leaned on the railing, watching my shadow, how I had tricked it. I moved along the rail, but my suit was dark too and I could wipe my hands, watching my shadow, how I had tricked it. I walked it into the shadow of the quai. Then I went east.

Harvard my Harvard boy Harvard harvard That pimple-faced infant she met at the field-meet with coloured ribbons. Skulking along the fence trying to whistle her out like a puppy. Because they couldn’t cajole him into the diningroom Mother believed he had some sort of spell he was going to cast on her when he got her alone. Yet any blackguard He was lying beside the box under the window bellowing that could drive up in a limousine with a flower in his buttonhole. Harvard. Quentin this is Herbert. My Harvard boy. Herbert will be a big brother has already promised Jason a position in the bank.

Hearty, celluloid like a drummer. Face full of teeth white but not smiling. I’ve heard of him up there. All teeth but not smiling. You going to drive?

Get in Quentin.

You going to drive.

It’s her car aren’t you proud of your little sister owns first auto in town Herbert his present. Louis has been giving her lessons every morning didn’t you get my letter Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce the marriage of their daughter Candace to Mr Sydney Herbert Head on the twenty-fifth of April one thousand nine hundred and ten at Jefferson Mississippi. At home after the first of August number Something Something Avenue South Bend Indiana. Shreve said Aren’t you even going to open it? Three days. Times. Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson Young Lochinvar rode out of the west a little too soon, didn’t he?

I’m from the south. You’re funny, aren’t you.

O yes I knew it was somewhere in the country.

You’re funny, aren’t you. You ought to join the circus.

I did. That’s how I ruined my eyes watering the elephant’s fleas. Three times These country girls. You cant even tell about them, can you. Well, anyway Byron never had his wish, thank God. But not hit a man in glasses. Aren’t you even going to open it? It lay on the table a candle burning at each corner upon the envelope tied in a soiled pink garter two artificial flowers. Not hit a man in glasses.

Country people poor things they never saw an auto before lots of them honk the horn Candace so She wouldn’t look at me they’ll get out of the way wouldn’t look at me your father wouldn’t like it if you were to injure one of them I’ll declare your father will simply have to get an auto now I’m almost sorry you brought it down Herbert I’ve enjoyed it so much of course there’s the carriage but so often when I’d like to go out Mr Compson has the darkies doing something it would be worth my head to interrupt he insists that Roskus is at my call all the time but I know what that means I know how often people make promises just to satisfy their consciences are you going to treat my little baby girl that way Herbert but I know you wont Herbert has spoiled us all to death Quentin did I write you that he is going to take Jason into his bank when Jason finishes high school Jason will make a splendid banker he is the only one of my children with any practical sense you can thank me for that he takes after my people the others are all Compson Jason furnished the flour. They made kites on the back porch and sold them for a nickel a piece, he and the Patterson boy. Jason was treasurer.

There was no nigger in this street car, and the hats unbleached as yet flowing past under the window. Going to Harvard. We have sold Benjy’s He lay on the ground under the window, bellowing. We have sold Benjy’s pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard a brother to you Your little brother.

You should have a car it’s done you no end of good dont you think so Quentin I call him Quentin at once you see I have heard so much about him from Candace.

Why shouldn’t you I want my boys to be more than friends yes Candace and Quentin more than friends Father I have committed what a pity you had no brother or sister No sister no sister had no sister Dont ask Quentin he and Mr Compson both feel a little insulted when I am strong enough to come down to the table I am going on nerve now I’ll pay for it after it’s all over and you have taken my little daughter away from me My little sister had no. If I could say Mother. Mother

Unless I do what I am tempted to and take you instead I dont think Mr Compson could overtake the car.

Ah Herbert Candace do you hear that She wouldn’t look at me soft stubborn jaw-angle not back-looking You needn’t be jealous though it’s just an old woman he’s flattering a grown married daughter I cant believe it.

Nonsense you look like a girl you are lots younger than Candace colour in your cheeks like a girl A face reproachful tearful an odour of camphor and of tears a voice weeping steadily and softly beyond the twilit door the twilight-coloured smell of honeysuckle. Bringing empty trunks down the attic stairs they sounded like coffins French Lick. Found not death at the salt lick

Hats not unbleached and not hats. In three years I can not wear a hat. I could not. Was. Will there be hats then since I was not and not Harvard then. Where the best of thought Father said clings like dead ivy vines upon old dead brick. Not Harvard then. Not to me, anyway. Again. Sadder than was. Again. Saddest of all. Again.

Spoade had a shirt on; then it must be. When I can see my shadow again if not careful that I tricked into the water shall tread again upon my impervious shadow. But no sister. I wouldn’t have done it. I wont have my daughter spied on I wouldn’t have.

How can I control any of them when you have always taught them to have no respect for me and my wishes I know you look down on my people but is that any reason for teaching my children my own children I suffered for to have no respect Trampling my shadow’s bones into the concrete with hard heels and then I was hearing the watch, and I touched the letters through my coat.

I will not have my daughter spied on by you or Quentin or anybody no matter what you think she has done

At least you agree there is reason for having her watched

I wouldn’t have I wouldn’t have. I know you wouldn’t I didn’t mean to speak so sharply but women have no respect for each other for themselves

But why did she The chimes began as I stepped on my shadow, but it was the quarter hour. The Deacon wasn’t in sight anywhere. think I would have could have

She didn’t mean that that’s the way women do things its because she loves Caddy

The street lamps would go down the hill then rise toward town I walked upon the belly of my shadow. I could extend my hand beyond it. feeling Father behind me beyond the rasping darkness of summer and August the street lamps Father and I protect women from one another from themselves our women Women are like that they dont acquire knowledge of people we are for that they are just born with a practical fertility of suspicion that makes a crop every so often and usually right they have an affinity for evil for supplying whatever the evil lacks in itself for drawing it about them instinctively as you do bedclothing in slumber fertilising the mind for it until the evil has served its purpose whether it ever existed or no He was coming along between a couple of freshmen. He hadn’t quite recovered from the parade, for he gave me a salute, a very superior-officerish kind.

“I want to see you a minute,” I said, stopping.

“See me? All right. See you again, fellows,” he said, stopping and turning back; “glad to have chatted with you.” That was the Deacon, all over. Talk about your natural psychologists. They said he hadn’t missed a train at the beginning of school in forty years, and that he could pick out a Southerner with one glance. He never missed, and once he had heard you speak, he could name your state. He had a regular uniform he met trains in, a sort of Uncle Tom’s cabin outfit, patches and all.

“Yes, suh. Right dis way, young marster, hyer we is,” taking your bags. “Hyer, boy, come hyer and git dese grips.” Whereupon a moving mountain of luggage would edge up, revealing a white boy of about fifteen, and the Deacon would hang another bag on him somehow and drive him off. “Now, den, dont you drap hit. Yes, suh, young marster, jes give de old nigger yo room number, and hit’ll be done got cold dar when you arrives.”

From then on until he had you completely subjugated he was always in or out of your room, ubiquitous and garrulous, though his manner gradually moved northward as his raiment improved, until at last when he had bled you until you began to learn better he was calling you Quentin or whatever, and when you saw him next he’d be wearing a cast-off Brooks suit and a hat with a Princeton club I forget which band that someone had given him and which he was pleasantly and unshakably convinced was a part of Abe Lincoln’s military sash. Someone spread the story years ago, when he first appeared around college from wherever he came from, that he was a graduate of the divinity school. And when he came to understand what it meant he was so taken with it that he began to retail the story himself, until at last he must come to believe he really had. Anyway he related long pointless anecdotes of his undergraduate days, speaking familiarly of dead and departed professors by their first names, usually incorrect ones. But he had been guide mentor and friend to unnumbered crops of innocent and lonely freshmen, and I suppose that with all his petty chicanery and hypocrisy he stank no higher in heaven’s nostrils than any other.

“Haven’t seen you in three-four days,” he said, staring at me from his still military aura. “You been sick?”

“No. I’ve been all right. Working, I reckon. I’ve seen you, though.”


“In the parade the other day.”

“Oh, that. Yes, I was there. I dont care nothing about that sort of thing, you understand, but the boys likes to have me with them, the vet’runs does. Ladies wants all the old vet’runs to turn out, you know. So I has to oblige them.”

“And on that Wop holiday too,” I said. “You were obliging the W. C. T. U. then, I reckon.”

“That? I was doing that for my son-in-law. He aims to get a job on the city forces. Street cleaner. I tells him all he wants is a broom to sleep on. You saw me, did you?”

“Both times. Yes.”

“I mean, in uniform. How’d I look?”

“You looked fine. You looked better than any of them. They ought to make you a general, Deacon.”

He touched my arm, lightly, his hand that worn, gentle quality of niggers’ hands. “Listen. This aint for outside talking. I dont mind telling you because you and me’s the same folks, come long and short.” He leaned a little to me, speaking rapidly, his eyes not looking at me. “I’ve got strings out, right now. Wait till next year. Just wait. Then see where I’m marching. I wont need to tell you how I’m fixing it; I say, just wait and see, my boy.” He looked at me now and clapped me lightly on the shoulder and rocked back on his heels, nodding at me. “Yes, sir. I didnt turn Democrat three years ago for nothing. My son-in-law on the city; me—Yes, sir. If just turning Democrat’ll make that son of a bitch go to work. . . . And me: just you stand on that corner yonder a year from two days ago, and see.”

“I hope so. You deserve it, Deacon. And while I think about it—” I took the letter from my pocket. “Take this around to my room tomorrow and give it to Shreve. He’ll have something for you. But not till tomorrow, mind.”

He took the letter and examined it. “It’s sealed up.”

“Yes. And it’s written inside, Not good until tomorrow.”

“H’m,” he said. He looked at the envelope, his mouth pursed. “Something for me, you say?”

“Yes. A present I’m making you.”

He was looking at me now, the envelope white in his black hand, in the sun. His eyes were soft and irisless and brown, and suddenly I saw Roskus watching me from behind all his whitefolks’ claptrap of uniform and politics and Harvard manner, diffident, secret, inarticulate and sad. “You aint playing a joke on the old nigger, is you?”

“You know I’m not. Did any Southerner ever play a joke on you?”

“You’re right. They’re fine folks. But you cant live with them.”

“Did you ever try?” I said. But Roskus was gone. Once more he was that self he had long since taught himself to wear in the world’s eye, pompous, spurious, not quite gross.

“I’ll confer to your wishes, my boy.”

“Not until tomorrow, remember.”

“Sure,” he said; “understood, my boy. Well—”

“I hope—” I said. He looked down at me, benignant, profound. Suddenly I held out my hand and we shook, he gravely, from the pompous height of his municipal and military dream. “You’re a good fellow, Deacon. I hope. . . . You’ve helped a lot of young fellows, here and there.”

“I’ve tried to treat all folks right,” he said. “I draw no petty social lines. A man to me is a man, wherever I find him.”

“I hope you’ll always find as many friends as you’ve made.”

“Young fellows. I get along with them. They dont forget me, neither,” he said, waving the envelope. He put it into his pocket and buttoned his coat. “Yes, sir,” he said, “I’ve had good friends.”

The chimes began again, the half hour. I stood in the belly of my shadow and listened to the strokes spaced and tranquil along the sunlight, among the thin, still little leaves. Spaced and peaceful and serene, with that quality of autumn always in bells even in the month of brides. Lying on the ground under the window bellowing He took one look at her and knew. Out of the mouths of babes. The street lamps The chimes ceased. I went back to the postoffice treading my shadow into pavement, go down the hill then they rise toward town like lanterns hung one above another on a wall. Father said because she loves Caddy she loves people through their shortcomings. Uncle Maury straddling his legs before the fire must remove one hand long enough to drink Christmas. Jason ran on, his hands in his pockets fell down and lay there like a trussed fowl until Versh set him up. Whyn’t you keep them hands outen your pockets when you running you could stand up then Rolling his head in the cradle rolling it flat across the back. Caddy told Jason Versh said that the reason Uncle Maury didn’t work was that he used to roll his head in the cradle when he was little.

Shreve was coming up the walk, shambling, fatly earnest, his glasses glinting beneath the running leaves like little pools.

“I gave Deacon a note for some things. I may not be in this afternoon, so dont you let him have anything until tomorrow, will you?”

“All right.” He looked at me. “Say, what’re you doing today, anyhow? All dressed up and mooning around like the prologue to a suttee. Did you go to Psychology this morning?”

“I’m not doing anything. Not until tomorrow, now.”

“What’s that you got there?”

“Nothing. Pair of shoes I had half-soled. Not until tomorrow, you hear?”

“Sure. All right. Oh, by the way, did you get a letter off the table this morning?”


“It’s there. From Semiramis. Chauffeur brought it before ten o’clock.”

“All right. I’ll get it. Wonder what she wants now.”

“Another band recital, I guess. Tumpty ta ta Gerald blah. ‘A little louder on the drum, Quentin.’ God, I’m glad I’m not a gentleman.” He went on, nursing a book, a little shapeless, fatly intent. The street lamps do you think so because one of our forefathers was a governor and three were generals and Mother’s weren’t

any live man is better than any dead man but no live or dead man is very much better than any other live or dead man Done in Mother’s mind though. Finished. Finished. Then we were all poisoned you are confusing sin and morality women dont do that your Mother is thinking of morality whether it be sin or not has not occurred to her

Jason I must go away you keep the others I’ll take Jason and go where nobody knows us so he’ll have a chance to grow up and forget all this the others dont love me they have never loved anything with that streak of Compson selfishness and false pride Jason was the only one my heart went out to without dread

nonsense Jason is all right I was thinking that as soon as you feel better you and Caddy might go up to French Lick

and leave Jason here with nobody but you and the darkies

she will forget him then all the talk will die away found not death at the salt licks

maybe I could find a husband for her not death at the salt licks

The car came up and stopped. The bells were still ringing the half hour. I got on and it went on again, blotting the half hour. No: the three quarters. Then it would be ten minutes anyway. To leave Harvard your Mother’s dream for sold Benjy’s pasture for

what have I done to have been given children like these Benjamin was punishment enough and now for her to have no more regard for me her own mother I’ve suffered for her dreamed and planned and sacrificed I went down into the valley yet never since she opened her eyes has she given me one unselfish thought at times I look at her I wonder if she can be my child except Jason he has never given me one moment’s sorrow since I first held him in my arms I knew then that he was to be my joy and my salvation I thought that Benjamin was punishment enough for any sins I have committed I thought he was my punishment for putting aside my pride and marrying a man who held himself above me I dont complain I loved him above all of them because of it because my duty though Jason pulling at my heart all the while but I see now that I have not suffered enough I see now that I must pay for your sins as well as mine what have you done what sins have your high and mighty people visited upon me but you’ll take up for them you always have found excuses for your own blood only Jason can do wrong because he is more Bascomb than Compson while your own daughter my little daughter my baby girl she is she is no better than that when I was a girl I was unfortunate I was only a Bascomb I was taught that there is no halfway ground that a woman is either a lady or not but I never dreamed when I held her in my arms that any daughter of mine could let herself dont you know I can look at her eyes and tell you may think she’d tell you but she doesn’t tell things she is secretive you dont know her I know things she’s done that I’d die before I’d have you know that’s it go on criticise Jason accuse me of setting him to watch her as if it were a crime while your own daughter can I know you dont love him that you wish to believe faults against him you never have yes ridicule him as you always have Maury you cannot hurt me any more than your children already have and then I’ll be gone and Jason with no one to love him shield him from this I look at him every day dreading to see this Compson blood beginning to show in him at last with his sister slipping out to see what do you call it then have you ever laid eyes on him will you even let me try to find out who he is it’s not for myself I couldn’t bear to see him it’s for your sake to protect you but who can fight against bad blood you wont let me try we are to sit back with our hands folded while she not only drags your name in the dirt but corrupts the very air your children breathe Jason you must let me go away I cannot stand it let me have Jason and you keep the others they’re not my flesh and blood like he is strangers nothing of mine and I am afraid of them I can take Jason and go where we are not known I’ll go down on my knees and pray for the absolution of my sins that he may escape this curse try to forget that the others ever were

If that was the three quarters, not over ten minutes now. One car had just left, and people were already waiting for the next one. I asked, but he didn’t know whether another one would leave before noon or not because you’d think that interurbans. So the first one was another trolley. I got on. You can feel noon. I wonder if even miners in the bowels of the earth. That’s why whistles: because people that sweat, and if just far enough from sweat you wont hear whistles and in eight minutes you should be that far from sweat in Boston. Father said a man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you’d think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune Father said. A gull on an invisible wire attached through space dragged. You carry the symbol of your frustration into eternity. Then the wings are bigger Father said only who can play a harp.

I could hear my watch whenever the car stopped, but not often they were already eating Who would play a Eating the business of eating inside of you space to space and time confused Stomach saying noon brain saying eat oclock All right I wonder what time it is what of it. People were getting out. The trolley didn’t stop so often now, emptied by eating.

Then it was past. I got off and stood in my shadow and after a while a car came along and I got on and went back to the interurban station. There was a car ready to leave, and I found a seat next the window and it started and I watched it sort of frazzle out into slack tide flats, and then trees. Now and then I saw the river and I thought how nice it would be for them down at New London if the weather and Gerald’s shell going solemnly up the glinting forenoon and I wondered what the old woman would be wanting now, sending me a note before ten oclock in the morning. What picture of Gerald I to be one of the Dalton Ames oh asbestos Quentin has shot background. Something with girls in it. Women do have always his voice above the gabble voice that breathed an affinity for evil, for believing that no woman is to be trusted, but that some men are too innocent to protect themselves. Plain girls. Remote cousins and family friends whom mere acquaintanceship invested with a sort of blood obligation noblesse oblige. And she sitting there telling us before their faces what a shame it was that Gerald should have all the family looks because a man didn’t need it, was better off without it but without it a girl was simply lost. Telling us about Gerald’s women in a Quentin has shot Herbert he shot his voice through the floor of Caddy’s room tone of smug approbation. “When he was seventeen I said to him one day ‘What a shame that you should have a mouth like that it should be on a girls face’ and can you imagine the curtains leaning in on the twilight upon the odour of the apple tree her head against the twilight her arms behind her head kimono-winged the voice that breathed o’er eden clothes upon the bed by the nose seen above the apple what he said? just seventeen, mind. ‘Mother’ he said ‘it often is.’ ” And him sitting there in attitudes regal watching two or three of them through his eyelashes. They gushed like swallows swooping his eyelashes. Shreve said he always had Are you going to look after Benjy and Father

The less you say about Benjy and Father the better when have you ever considered them Caddy


You needn’t worry about them you’re getting out in good shape

Promise I’m sick you’ll have to promise wondered who invented that joke but then he always had considered Mrs Bland a remarkably preserved woman he said she was grooming Gerald to seduce a duchess sometime. She called Shreve that fat Canadian youth twice she arranged a new room-mate for me without consulting me at all, once for me to move out, once for

He opened the door in the twilight. His face looked like a pumpkin pie.

“Well, I’ll say a fond farewell. Cruel fate may part us, but I will never love another. Never.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about cruel fate in eight yards of apricot silk and more metal pound for pound that a galley slave and the sole owner and proprietor of the unchallenged peripatetic john of the late Confederacy.” Then he told me how she had gone to the proctor to have him moved out and how the proctor had revealed enough low stubbornness to insist on consulting Shreve first. Then she suggested that he send for Shreve right off and do it, and he wouldnt do that, so after that she was hardly civil to Shreve. “I make it a point never to speak harshly of females,” Shreve said, “but that woman has got more ways like a bitch than any lady in these sovereign states and dominions.” and now Letter on the table by hand, command orchid scented coloured If she knew I had passed almost beneath the window knowing it there without My dear Madam I have not yet had an opportunity of receiving your communication but I beg in advance to be excused today or yesterday and tomorrow or when As I remember that the next one is to be how Gerald throws his nigger downstairs and how the nigger plead to be allowed to matriculate in the divinity school to be near marster marse gerald and How he ran all the way to the station beside the carriage with tears in his eyes when marse gerald rid away I will wait until the day for the one about the sawmill husband came to the kitchen door with a shotgun Gerald went down and bit the gun in two and handed it back and wiped his hands on a silk handkerchief threw the handkerchief in the stove I’ve only heard that one twice

shot him through the I saw you come in here so I watched my chance and came along thought we might get acquainted have a cigar

Thanks I dont smoke

No things must have changed up there since my day mind if I light up

Help yourself

Thanks I’ve heard a lot I guess your mother wont mind if I put the match behind the screen will she a lot about you Candace talked about you all the time up there at the Licks I got pretty jealous I says to myself who is this Quentin anyway I must see what this animal looks like because I was hit pretty hard see soon as I saw the little girl I dont mind telling you it never occurred to me it was her brother she kept talking about she couldnt have talked about you any more if you’d been the only man in the world husband wouldnt have been in it you wont change your mind and have a smoke

I dont smoke

In that case I wont insist even though it is a pretty fair weed cost me twenty-five bucks a hundred wholesale friend in Havana yes I guess there are lots of changes up there I keep promising myself a visit but I never get around to it been hitting the ball now for ten years I cant get away from the bank during school fellow’s habits change things that seem important to an undergraduate you know tell me about things up there

I’m not going to tell Father and Mother if that’s what you are getting at

Not going to tell not going to oh that that’s what you are talking about is it you understand that I dont give a damn whether you tell or not understand that a thing like that unfortunate but no police crime I wasn’t the first or the last I was just unlucky you might have been luckier

You lie

Keep your shirt on I’m not trying to make you tell anything you dont want to meant no offense of course a young fellow like you would consider a thing of that sort a lot more serious than you will in five years

I dont know but one way to consider cheating I dont think I’m likely to learn different at Harvard

We’re better than a play you must have made the Dramat well you’re right no need to tell them we’ll let bygones be bygones eh no reason why you and I should let a little thing like that come between us I like you Quentin I like your appearance you dont look like these other hicks I’m glad we’re going to hit off like this I’ve promised your mother to do something for Jason but I would like to give you a hand too Jason would be just as well off here but there’s no future in a hole like this for a young fellow like you

Thanks you’d better stick to Jason he’d suit you better than I would

I’m sorry about that business but a kid like I was then I never had a mother like yours to teach me the finer points it would just hurt her unnecessarily to know it yes you’re right no need to that includes Candace of course

I said Mother and Father

Look here take a look at me how long do you think you’d last with me

I wont have to last long if you learned to fight up at school too try and see how long I would

You damned little   what do you think you’re getting at

Try and see

My God the cigar what would your mother say if she found a blister on her mantel just in time too look here Quentin we’re about to do something we’ll both regret I like you liked you as soon as I saw you I says he must be a damned good fellow whoever he is or Candace wouldnt be so keen on him listen I’ve been out in the world now for ten years things dont matter so much then you’ll find that out let’s you and I get together on this thing sons of old Harvard and all I guess I wouldnt know the place now best place for a young fellow in the world I’m going to send my sons there give them a better chance than I had wait dont go yet let’s discuss this thing a young man gets these ideas and I’m all for them does him good while he’s in school forms his character good for tradition the school but when he gets out into the world he’ll have to get his the best way he can because he’ll find that everybody else is doing the same thing and be damned to here let’s shake hands and let bygones be bygones for your mother’s sake remember her health come on give me your hand here look at it it’s just out of convent look not a blemish not even been creased yet see here

To hell with your money

No no come on I belong to the family now see I know how it is with a young fellow he has lots of private affairs it’s always pretty hard to get the old man to stump up for I know havent I been there and not so long ago either but now I’m getting married and all specially up there come on dont be a fool listen when we get a chance for a real talk I want to tell you about a little widow over in town

I’ve heard that too keep your damned money

Call it a loan then just shut your eyes a minute and you’ll be fifty

Keep your hands off of me you’d better get that cigar off the mantel

Tell and be damned then see what it gets you if you were not a damned fool you’d have seen that I’ve got them too tight for any half-baked Galahad of a brother your mother’s told me about your sort with your head swelled up come in oh come in dear Quentin and I were just getting acquainted talking about Harvard did you want me cant stay away from the old man can she

Go out a minute Herbert I want to talk to Quentin

Come in come in let’s all have a gabfest and get acquainted I was just telling Quentin

Go on Herbert go out a while

Well all right then I suppose you and bubber do want to see one another once more eh

You’d better take that cigar off the mantel

Right as usual my boy then I’ll toddle along let them order you around while they can Quentin after day after tomorrow it’ll be pretty please to the old man wont it dear give us a kiss honey

Oh stop that save that for day after tomorrow

I’ll want interest then dont let Quentin do anything he cant finish oh by the way did I tell Quentin the story about the man’s parrot and what happened to it a sad story remind me of that think of it yourself ta-ta see you in the funnypaper



What are you up to now


You’re meddling in my business again didn’t you get enough of that last summer

Caddy you’ve got fever You’re sick how are you sick

I’m just sick. I cant ask.

Shot his voice through the

Not that blackguard Caddy

Now and then the river glinted beyond things in sort of swooping glints, across noon and after. Well after now, though we had passed where he was still pulling upstream majestical in the face of god gods. Better. Gods. God would be canaille too in Boston Massachusetts. Or maybe just not a husband. The wet oars winking him along in bright winks and female palms. Adulant. Adulant if not a husband he’d ignore God. That blackguard, Caddy The river glinted away beyond a swooping curve.

I’m sick you’ll have to promise

Sick how are you sick

I’m just sick I cant ask anybody yet promise you will

If they need any looking after it’s because of you how are you sick Under the window we could hear the car leaving for the station, the 8:10 train. To bring back cousins. Heads. Increasing himself head by head but not barbers. Manicure girls. We had a blood horse once. In the stable yes, but under leather a cur. Quentin has shot all of their voices through the floor of Caddy’s room

The car stopped. I got off, into the middle of my shadow. A road crossed the track. There was a wooden marquee with an old man eating something out of a paper bag, and then the car was out of hearing too. The road went into the trees, where it would be shady, but June foliage in New England not much thicker than April at home in Mississippi. I could see a smoke stack. I turned my back to it, tramping my shadow into the dust. There was something terrible in me sometimes at night I could see it grinning at me I could see it through them grinning at me through their faces it’s gone now and I’m sick


Dont touch me just promise

If you’re sick you cant

Yes I can after that it’ll be all right it wont matter dont let them send him to Jackson promise

I promise Caddy Caddy

Dont touch me dont touch me

What does it look like Caddy


That that grins at you that thing through them

I could still see the smoke stack. That’s where the water would be, heading out to the sea and the peaceful grottoes. Tumbling peacefully they would, and when He said Rise only the flatirons. When Versh and I hunted all day we wouldn’t take any lunch, and at twelve oclock I’d get hungry. I’d stay hungry until about one, then all of a sudden I’d even forget that I wasn’t hungry anymore. The street lamps go down the hill then heard the car go down the hill. The chair-arm flat cool smooth under my forehead shaping the chair the apple tree leaning on my hair above the eden clothes by the nose seen You’ve got fever I felt it yesterday it’s like being near a stove.

Dont touch me.

Caddy you cant do it if you are sick. That blackguard.

I’ve got to marry somebody. Then they told me the bone would have to be broken again

At last I couldn’t see the smoke stack. The road went beside a wall. Trees leaned over the wall, sprayed with sunlight. The stone was cool. Walking near it you could feel the coolness. Only our country was not like this country. There was something about just walking through it. A kind of still and violent fecundity that satisfied ever bread-hunger like. Flowing around you, not brooding and nursing every niggard stone. Like it were put to makeshift for enough green to go around among the trees and even the blue of distance not that rich chimaera. told me the bone would have to be broken again and inside me it began to say Ah Ah Ah and I began to sweat. What do I care I know what a broken leg is all it is it wont be anything I’ll just have to stay in the house a little longer that’s all and my jaw-muscles getting numb and my mouth saying Wait Wait just a minute through the sweat ah ah ah behind my teeth and Father damn that horse damn that horse. Wait it’s my fault. He came along the fence every morning with a basket toward the kitchen dragging a stick along the fence every morning I dragged myself to the window cast and all and laid for him with a piece of coal Dilsey said you goin to ruin yoself aint you got no mo sense than that not fo days since you bruck hit. Wait I’ll get used to it in a minute wait just a minute I’ll get

Even sound seemed to fail in this air, like the air was worn out with carrying sounds so long. A dog’s voice carries further than a train, in the darkness anyway. And some people’s. Niggers. Louis Hatcher never even used his horn carrying it and that old lantern. I said, “Louis, when was the last time you cleaned that lantern?”

“I cleant hit a little while back. You member when all dat flood-watter wash dem folks away up yonder? I cleant hit dat ve’y day. Old woman and me settin fore de fire dat night and she say ‘Louis, whut you gwine do ef dat flood git out dis fur?’ and I say ‘Dat’s a fack. I reckon I had better clean dat lantun up.’ So I cleant hit dat night.”

“That flood was way up in Pennsylvania,” I said. “It couldn’t even have got down this far.”

“Dat’s whut you says,” Louis said. “Watter kin git des ez high en wet in Jefferson ez hit kin in Pennsylvaney, I reckon. Hit’s de folks dat says de high watter cant git dis fur dat comes floatin out on de ridge-pole, too.”

“Did you and Martha get out that night?”

“We done jest that. I cleant dat lantun and me and her sot de balance of de night on top o dat knoll back de graveyard. En ef I’d a knowed of aihy one higher, we’d a been on hit instead.”

“And you haven’t cleaned that lantern since then.”

“Whut I want to clean hit when dey aint no need?”

“You mean, until another flood comes along?”

“Hit kep us outen dat un.”

“Oh, come on, Uncle Louis,” I said.

“Yes, suh. You do you way en I do mine. Ef all I got to do to keep outen de high watter is to clean dis yere lantun, I wont quoil wid no man.”

“Unc’ Louis wouldn’t ketch nothin wid a light he could see by,” Versh said.

“I wuz huntin possums in dis country when dey was still drowndin nits in yo pappy’s head wid coal oil, boy,” Louis said. “Ketchin um, too.”

“Dat’s de troof,” Versh said. “I reckon Unc’ Louis done caught mo possums than aihy man in dis country.”

“Yes, suh,” Louis said, “I got plenty light fer possums to see, all right. I aint heard non o dem complainin. Hush, now. Dar he. Whooey. Hum awn, dawg.” And we’d sit in the dry leaves that whispered a little with the slow respiration of our waiting and with the slow breathing of the earth and the windless October, the rank smell of the lantern fouling the brittle air, listening to the dogs and to the echo of Louis’ voice dying away. He never raised it, yet on a still night we have heard it from our front porch. When he called the dogs in he sounded just like the horn he carried slung on his shoulder and never used, but clearer, mellower, as though his voice were a part of darkness and silence, coiling out of it, coiling into it again. WhoOoooo. WhoOoooo. WhoOooooooooooooooo. Got to marry somebody

Have there been very many Caddy

I dont know too many will you look after Benjy and Father

You dont know whose it is then does he know

Dont touch me will you look after Benjy and Father

I began to feel the water before I came to the bridge. The bridge was of grey stone, lichened, dappled with slow moisture where the fungus crept. Beneath it the water was clear and still in the shadow, whispering and clucking about the stone in fading swirls of spinning sky. Caddy that

I’ve got to marry somebody Versh told me about a man mutilated himself. He went into the woods and did it with a razor, sitting in a ditch. A broken razor, flinging them backward over his shoulder the same motion complete the jerked skein of blood backward not looping. But that’s not it. It’s not not having them. It’s never to have had them then I could say O That That’s Chinese I dont know Chinese. And Father said it’s because you are a virgin: dont you see? Women are never virgins. Purity is a negative state and therefore contrary to nature. It’s nature is hurting you not Caddy and I said That’s just words and he said So is virginity and I said you dont know. You cant know and he said Yes. On the instant when we come to realise that tragedy is second-hand.

Where the shadow of the bridge fell I could see down for a long way, but not as far as the bottom. When you leave a leaf in water a long time after awhile the tissue will be gone and the delicate fibers waving slow as the motion of sleep. They dont touch one another, no matter how knotted up they once were, no matter how close they lay once to the bones. And maybe when He says Rise the eyes will come floating up too, out of the deep quiet and the sleep, to look on glory. And after awhile the flatirons would come floating up. I hid them under the end of the bridge and went back and leaned on the rail.

I could not see the bottom, but I could see a long way into the motion of the water before the eye gave out, and then I saw a shadow hanging like a fat arrow stemming into the current. Mayflies skimmed in and out of the shadow of the bridge just above the surface. If it could just be a hell beyond that: the clean flame the two of us more than dead. Then you will have only me then only me then the two of us amid the pointing and the horror beyond the clean flame The arrow increased without motion, then in a quick swirl the trout lipped a fly beneath the surface with that sort of gigantic delicacy of an elephant picking up a peanut. The fading vortex drifted away downstream and then I saw the arrow again, nose into the current, wavering delicately to the motion of the water above which the Mayflies slanted and poised. Only you and me then amid the pointing and the horror walled by the clean flame

The trout hung, delicate and motionless among the wavering shadows. Three boys with fishing poles came onto the bridge and we leaned on the rail and looked down at the trout. They knew the fish. He was a neighbourhood character.

“They’ve been trying to catch that trout for twenty-five years. There’s a store in Boston offers a twenty-five dollar fishing rod to anybody that can catch him.”

“Why dont you all catch him, then? Wouldnt you like to have a twenty-five dollar fishing rod?”

“Yes,” they said. They leaned on the rail, looking down at the trout. “I sure would,” one said.

“I wouldnt take the rod,” the second said. “I’d take the money instead.”

“Maybe they wouldnt do that,” the first said. “I bet he’d make you take the rod.”

“Then I’d sell it.”

“You couldnt get twenty-five dollars for it.”

“I’d take what I could get, then. I can catch just as many fish with this pole as I could with a twenty-five dollar one.” Then they talked about what they would do with twenty-five dollars. They all talked at once, their voices insistent and contradictory and impatient, making of unreality a possibility, then a probability, then an incontrovertible fact, as people will when their desires become words.

“I’d buy a horse and wagon,” the second said.

“Yes you would,” the others said.

“I would. I know where I can buy one for twenty-five dollars. I know the man.”

“Who is it?”

“That’s all right who it is. I can buy it for twenty-five dollars.”

“Yah,” the others said, “He dont know any such thing. He’s just talking.”

“Do you think so?” the boy said. They continued to jeer at him, but he said nothing more. He leaned on the rail, looking down at the trout which he had already spent, and suddenly the acrimony, the conflict, was gone from their voices, as if to them too it was as though he had captured the fish and bought his horse and wagon, they too partaking of that adult trait of being convinced of anything by an assumption of silent superiority. I suppose that people, using themselves and each other so much by words, are at least consistent in attributing wisdom to a still tongue, and for a while I could feel the other two seeking swiftly for some means by which to cope with him, to rob him of his horse and wagon.

“You couldnt get twenty-five dollars for that pole,” the first said. “I bet anything you couldnt.”

“He hasnt caught that trout yet,” the third said suddenly, then they both cried:

“Yah, wha’d I tell you? What’s the man’s name? I dare you to tell. There aint any such man.”

“Ah, shut up,” the second said. “Look, Here he comes again.” They leaned on the rail, motionless, identical, their poles slanting slenderly in the sunlight, also identical. The trout rose without haste, a shadow in faint wavering increase; again the little vortex faded slowly downstream. “Gee,” the first one murmured.

“We dont try to catch him anymore,” he said. “We just watch Boston folks that come out and try.”

“Is he the only fish in this pool?”

“Yes. He ran all the others out. The best place to fish around here is down at the Eddy.”

“No it aint,” the second said. “It’s better at Bigelow’s Mill two to one.” Then they argued for a while about which was the best fishing and then left off all of a sudden to watch the trout rise again and the broken swirl of water suck down a little of the sky. I asked how far it was to the nearest town. They told me.

“But the closest car line is that way,” the second said, pointing back down the road. “Where are you going?”

“Nowhere. Just walking.”

“You from the college?”

“Yes. Are there any factories in that town?”

“Factories?” They looked at me.

“No,” the second said. “Not there.” They looked at my clothes. “You looking for work?”

“How about Bigelow’s Mill?” the third said. “That’s a factory.”

“Factory my eye. He means a sure enough factory.”

“One with a whistle,” I said. “I havent heard any one oclock whistles yet.”

“Oh,” the second said. “There’s a clock in the Unitarian steeple. You can find out the time from that. Havent you got a watch on that chain?”

“I broke it this morning.” I showed them my watch. They examined it gravely.

“It’s still running,” the second said. “What does a watch like that cost?”

“It was a present,” I said. “My father gave it to me when I graduated from high school.”

“Are you a Canadian?” the third said. He had red hair.


“He dont talk like them,” the second said. “I’ve heard them talk. He talks like they do in minstrel shows.”

“Say,” the third said, “aint you afraid he’ll hit you?”

“Hit me?”

“You said he talks like a coloured man.”

“Ah, dry up,” the second said. “You can see the steeple when you get over that hill there.”

I thanked them. “I hope you have good luck. Only dont catch that old fellow down there. He deserves to be let alone.”

“Cant anybody catch that fish,” the first said. They leaned on the rail, looking down into the water, the three poles like three slanting threads of yellow fire in the sun. I walked upon my shadow, tramping it into the dappled shade of trees again. The road curved, mounting away from the water. It crossed the hill, then descended winding, carrying the eye, the mind on ahead beneath a still green tunnel, and the square cupola above the trees and the round eye of the clock but far enough. I sat down at the roadside. The grass was ankle deep, myriad. The shadows on the road were as still as if they had been put there with a stencil, with slanting pencils of sunlight. But it was only a train, and after a while it died away beyond the trees, the long sound, and then I could hear my watch and the train dying away, as though it were running through another month or another summer somewhere, rushing away under the poised gull and all things rushing. Except Gerald. He would be sort of grand too, pulling in lonely state across the noon, rowing himself right out of noon, up the long bright air like an apotheosis, mounting into a drowsing infinity where only he and the gull, the one terrifically motionless, the other in a steady and measured pull and recover that partook of inertia itself, the world punily beneath their shadows on the sun. Caddy that blackguard that blackguard Caddy

Their voices came over the hill, and the three slender poles like balanced threads of running fire. They looked at me passing, not slowing.

“Well,” I said, “I dont see him.”

“We didnt try to catch him,” the first said. “You cant catch that fish.”

“There’s the clock,” the second said, pointing. “You can tell the time when you get a little closer.”

“Yes,” I said, “All right.” I got up. “You all going to town?”

“We’re going to the Eddy for chub,” the first said.

“You cant catch anything at the Eddy,” the second said.

“I guess you want to go to the mill, with a lot of fellows splashing and scaring all the fish away.”

“You cant catch any fish at the Eddy.”

“We wont catch none nowhere if we dont go on,” the third said.

“I dont see why you keep on talking about the Eddy,” the second said. “You cant catch anything there.”

“You dont have to go,” the first said. “You’re not tied to me.”

“Let’s go to the mill and go swimming,” the third said.

“I’m going to the Eddy and fish,” the first said. “You can do as you please.”

“Say, how long has it been since you heard of anybody catching a fish at the Eddy?” the second said to the third.

“Let’s go to the mill and go swimming,” the third said. The cupola sank slowly beyond the trees, with the round face of the clock far enough yet. We went on in the dappled shade. We came to an orchard, pink and white. It was full of bees; already we could hear them.

“Let’s go to the mill and go swimming,” the third said. A lane turned off beside the orchard. The third boy slowed and halted. The first went on, flecks of sunlight slipping along the pole across his shoulder and down the back of his shirt. “Come on,” the third said. The second boy stopped too. Why must you marry somebody Caddy

Do you want me to say it do you think that if I say it it wont be

“Let’s go up to the mill,” he said. “Come on.”

The first boy went on. His bare feet made no sound, falling softer than leaves in the thin dust. In the orchard the bees sounded like a wind getting up, a sound caught by a spell just under crescendo and sustained. The lane went along the wall, arched over, shattered with bloom, dissolving into trees. Sunlight slanted into it, sparse and eager. Yellow butterflies flickered along the shade like flecks of sun.

“What do you want to go to the Eddy for?” the second boy said. “You can fish at the mill if you want to.”

“Ah, let him go,” the third said. They looked after the first boy. Sunlight slid patchily across his walking shoulders, glinting along the pole like yellow ants.

“Kenny,” the second said. Say it to Father will you I will am my fathers Progenitive I invented him created I him Say it to him it will not be for he will say I was not and then you and I since philoprogenitive

“Ah, come on,” the boy said, “They’re already in.” They looked after the first boy. “Yah,” they said suddenly, “go on then, mamma’s boy. If he goes swimming he’ll get his head wet and then he’ll get a licking.” They turned into the lane and went on, the yellow butterflies slanting about them along the shade.

it is because there is nothing else I believe there is something else but there may not be and then I You will find that even injustice is scarcely worthy of what you believe yourself to be He paid me no attention, his jaw set in profile, his face turned a little away beneath his broken hat.

“Why dont you go swimming with them?” I said. that blackguard Caddy

Were you trying to pick a fight with him were you

A liar and a scoundrel Caddy was dropped from his club for cheating at cards got sent to Coventry caught cheating at midterm exams and expelled

Well what about it I’m not going to play cards with

“Do you like fishing better than swimming?” I said. The sound of the bees diminished, sustained yet, as though instead of sinking into silence, silence merely increased between us, as water rises. The road curved again and became a street between shady lawns with white houses. Caddy that blackguard can you think of Benjy and Father and do it not of me

What else can I think about what else have I thought about The boy turned from the street. He climbed a picket fence without looking back and crossed the lawn to a tree and laid the pole down and climbed into the fork of the tree and sat there, his back to the road and the dappled sun motionless at last upon his white shirt. Else have I thought about I cant even cry I died last year I told you I had but I didnt know then what I meant I didnt know what I was saying Some days in late August at home are like this, the air thin and eager like this, with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar. Man the sum of his climatic experiences Father said. Man the sum of what have you. A problem in impure properties carried tediously to an unvarying nil: stalemate of dust and desire. But now I know I’m dead I tell you

Then why must you listen we can go away you and Benjy and me where nobody knows us where The buggy was drawn by a white horse, his feet clopping in the thin dust; spidery wheels chattering thin and dry, moving uphill beneath a rippling shawl of leaves. Elm. No: ellum. Ellum.

On what on your school money the money they sold the pasture for so you could go to Harvard dont you see you’ve got to finish now if you dont finish he’ll have nothing

Sold the pasture His white shirt was motionless in the fork, in the flickering shade. The wheels were spidery. Beneath the sag of the buggy the hooves neatly rapid like the motions of a lady doing embroidery, diminishing without progress like a figure on a treadmill being drawn rapidly offstage. The street turned again. I could see the white cupola, the round stupid assertion of the clock. Sold the pasture

Father will be dead in a year they say if he doesnt stop drinking and he wont stop he cant stop since I since last summer and then they’ll send Benjy to Jackson I cant cry I cant even cry one minute she was standing in the door the next minute he was pulling at her dress and bellowing his voice hammered back and forth between the walls in waves and she shrinking against the wall getting smaller and smaller with her white face her eyes like thumbs dug into it until he pushed her out of the room his voice hammering back and forth as though its own momentum would not let it stop as though there were no place for it in silence bellowing

When you opened the door a bell tinkled, but just once, high and clear and small in the neat obscurity above the door, as though it were gauged and tempered to make that single clear small sound so as not to wear the bell out nor to require the expenditure of too much silence in restoring it when the door opened upon the recent warm scent of baking; a little dirty child with eyes like a toy bear’s and two patent-leather pig-tails.

“Hello, sister.” Her face was like a cup of milk dashed with coffee in the sweet warm emptiness. “Anybody here?”

But she merely watched me until a door opened and the lady came. Above the counter where the ranks of crisp shapes behind the glass her neat grey face her hair tight and sparse from her neat grey skull, spectacles in neat grey rims riding approaching like something on a wire, like a cash box in a store. She looked like a librarian. Something among dusty shelves of ordered certitudes long divorced from reality, desiccating peacefully, as if a breath of that air which sees injustice done

“Two of these, please, ma’am.”

From under the counter she produced a square cut from a newspaper and laid it on the counter and lifted the two buns out. The little girl watched them with still and unwinking eyes like two currants floating motionless in a cup of weak coffee Land of the kike home of the wop. Watching the bread, the neat grey hands, a broad gold band on the left forefinger, knuckled there by a blue knuckle.

“Do you do your own baking, ma’am?”

“Sir?” she said. Like that. Sir? Like on the stage Sir? “Five cents. Was there anything else?”

“No, ma’am. Not for me. This lady wants something.” She was not tall enough to see over the case, so she went to the end of the counter and looked at the little girl

“Did you bring her in here?”

“No, ma’am. She was here when I came.”

“You little wretch,” she said. She came out around the counter, but she didnt touch the little girl. “Have you got anything in your pockets?”

“She hasnt got any pockets,” I said. “She wasnt doing anything. She was standing here, waiting for you.”

“Why didnt the bell ring, then?” She glared at me. She just needed a bunch of switches, a blackboard behind her 2 x 2 e 5. “She’ll hide it under her dress and a body’d never know it. You, child. How’d you get in here?”

The little girl said nothing. She looked at the woman, then she gave me a flying black glance and looked at the woman again, “Them foreigners,” the woman said. “How’d she get in without the bell ringing?”

“She came in when I opened the door,” I said. “It rang once for both of us. She couldnt reach anything from here, anyway. Besides, I dont think she would. Would you, sister?” The little girl looked at me, secretive, contemplative. “What do you want? bread?”

She extended her fist. It uncurled upon a nickel, moist and dirty, moist dirt ridged into her flesh. The coin was damp and warm. I could smell it, faintly metallic.

“Have you got a five cent loaf, please, ma’am?”

From beneath the counter she produced a square cut from a newspaper sheet and laid it on the counter and wrapped a loaf into it. I laid the coin and another one on the counter. “And another one of those buns, please, ma’am.”

She took another bun from the case. “Give me that parcel,” she said. I gave it to her and she unwrapped it and put the third bun in and wrapped it and took the coins and found two coppers in her apron and gave them to me. I handed them to the little girl. Her fingers closed about them, damp and hot, like worms.

“You going to give her that bun?” the woman said.

“Yessum,” I said. “I expect your cooking smells as good to her as it does to me.”

I took up the two packages and gave the bread to the little girl, the woman all iron-grey behind the counter, watching us with cold certitude. “You wait a minute,” she said. She went to the rear. The door opened again and closed. The little girl watched me, holding the bread against her dirty-dress.

“What’s your name?” I said. She quit looking at me, but she was still motionless. She didnt even seem to breathe. The woman returned. She had a funny looking thing in her hand. She carried it sort of like it might have been a dead pet rat.

“Here,” she said. The child looked at her. “Take it,” the woman said, jabbing it at the little girl. “It just looks peculiar. I calculate you wont know the difference when you eat it. Here. I cant stand here all day.” The child took it, still watching her. The woman rubbed her hands on her apron. “I got to have that bell fixed,” she said. She went to the door and jerked it open. The little bell tinkled once, faint and clear and invisible. We moved toward the door and the woman’s peering back.

“Thank you for the cake,” I said.

“Them foreigners,” she said, staring up into the obscurity where the bell tinkled. “Take my advice and stay clear of them, young man.”

“Yessum,” I said. “Come on, sister.” We went out. “Thank you, ma’am.”

She swung the door to, then jerked it open again, making the bell give forth its single small note. “Foreigners,” she said, peering up at the bell.

We went on. “Well,” I said. “How about some ice cream?” She was eating the gnarled cake. “Do you like ice cream?” She gave me a black still look, chewing. “Come on.”

We came to the drugstore and had some ice cream. She wouldnt put the loaf down. “Why not put it down so you can eat better?” I said, offering to take it. But she held to it, chewing the ice cream like it was taffy. The bitten cake lay on the table. She ate the ice cream steadily, then she fell to on the cake again, looking about at the showcases. I finished mine and we went out.

“Which way do you live?” I said.

A buggy, the one with the horse it was. Only Doc Peabody is fat. Three hundred pounds. You ride with him on the uphill side, holding on. Children. Walking easier than holding uphill. Seen the doctor yet have you seen Caddy

I dont have to I cant ask now afterward it will be all right it wont matter

Because women so delicate so mysterious Father said. Delicate equilibrium of periodical filth between two moons balanced. Moons he said full and yellow as harvest moons her hips thighs. Outside outside of them always but. Yellow. Feetsoles with walking like. Then know that some man that all those mysterious and imperious concealed. With all that inside of them shapes an outward suavity waiting for a touch to. Liquid putrefaction like drowned things floating like pale rubber flabbily filled getting the odour of honeysuckle all mixed up.

“You’d better take your bread on home, hadnt you?”

She looked at me. She chewed quietly and steadily; at regular intervals a small distension passed smoothly down her throat. I opened my package and gave her one of the buns. “Goodbye,” I said.

I went on. Then I looked back. She was behind me. “Do you live down this way?” She said nothing. She walked beside me, under my elbow sort of, eating. We went on. It was quiet, hardly anyone about getting the odour of honeysuckle all mixed She would have told me not to let me sit there on the steps hearing her door twilight slamming hearing Benjy still crying Supper she would have to come down then getting honeysuckle all mixed up in it We reached the corner.

“Well, I’ve got to go down this way,” I said, “Goodbye.” She stopped too. She swallowed the last of the cake, then she began on the bun, watching me across it. “Goodbye,” I said. I turned into the street and went on, but I went to the next corner before I stopped.

“Which way do you live?” I said. “This way?” I pointed down the street. She just looked at me. “Do you live over that way? I bet you live close to the station, where the trains are. Dont you?” She just looked at me, serene and secret and chewing. The street was empty both ways, with quiet lawns and houses neat among the trees, but no one at all except back there. We turned and went back. Two men sat in chairs in front of a store.

“Do you all know this little girl? She sort of took up with me and I cant find where she lives.”

They quit looking at me and looked at her.

“Must be one of them new Italian families,” one said. He wore a rusty frock coat. “I’ve seen her before. What’s your name, little girl?” She looked at them blackly for awhile, her jaws moving steadily. She swallowed without ceasing to chew.

“Maybe she cant speak English,” the other said.

“They sent her after bread,” I said. “She must be able to speak something.”

“What’s your pa’s name?” the first said. “Pete? Joe? name John huh?” She took another bite from the bun.

“What must I do with her?” I said. “She just follows me. I’ve got to get back to Boston.”

“You from the college?”

“Yes, sir. And I’ve got to get on back.”

“You might go up the street and turn her over to Anse. He’ll be up at the livery stable. The marshal.”

“I reckon that’s what I’ll have to do,” I said. “I’ve got to do something with her. Much obliged. Come on, sister.”

We went up the street, on the shady side, where the shadow of the broken façade blotted slowly across the road. We came to the livery stable. The marshal wasnt there. A man sitting in a chair tilted in the broad low door, where a dark cool breeze smelling of ammonia blew among the ranked stalls, said to look at the postoffice. He didn’t know her either.

“Them furriners. I cant tell one from another. You might take her across the tracks where they live, and maybe somebody’ll claim her.”

We went to the postoffice. It was back down the street. The man in the frock coat was opening a newspaper.

“Anse just drove out of town,” he said. “I guess you’d better go down past the station and walk past them houses by the river. Somebody there’ll know her.”

“I guess I’ll have to,” I said. “Come on, sister.” She pushed the last piece of the bun into her mouth and swallowed it. “Want another?” I said. She looked at me, chewing, her eyes black and unwinking and friendly. I took the other two buns out and gave her one and bit into the other. I asked a man where the station was and he showed me. “Come on, sister.”

We reached the station and crossed the tracks, where the river was. A bridge crossed it, and a street of jumbled frame houses followed the river, backed onto it. A shabby street, but with an air heterogeneous and vivid too. In the center of an untrimmed plot enclosed by a fence of gaping and broken pickets stood an ancient lopsided surrey and a weathered house from an upper window of which hung a garment of vivid pink.

“Does that look like your house?” I said. She looked at me over the bun. “This one?” I said, pointing. She just chewed, but it seemed to me that I discerned something affirmative, acquiescent even if it wasn’t eager, in her air. “This one?” I said. “Come on, then.” I entered the broken gate. I looked back at her. “Here?” I said. “This look like your house?”

She nodded her head rapidly, looking at me, gnawing into the damp halfmoon of the bread. We went on. A walk of broken random flags, speared by fresh coarse blades of grass, led to the broken stoop. There was no movement about the house at all, and the pink garment hanging in no wind from the upper window. There was a bell pull with a porcelain knob, attached to about six feet of wire when I stopped pulling and knocked. The little girl had the crust edgeways in her chewing mouth.

A woman opened the door. She looked at me, then she spoke rapidly to the little girl in Italian, with a rising inflection, then a pause, interrogatory. She spoke to her again, the little girl looking at her across the end of the crust, pushing it into her mouth with a dirty hand.

“She says she lives here,” I said. “I met her down town. Is this your bread?”

“No spika,” the woman said. She spoke to the little girl again. The little girl just looked at her.

“No live here?” I said. I pointed to the girl, then at her, then at the door. The woman shook her head. She spoke rapidly. She came to the edge of the porch and pointed down the road, speaking.

I nodded violently too. “You come show?” I said. I took her arm, waving my other hand toward the road. She spoke swiftly, pointing. “You come show,” I said, trying to lead her down the steps.

“Si, si,” she said, holding back, showing me whatever it was. I nodded again.

“Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.” I went down the steps and walked toward the gate, not running, but pretty fast. I reached the gate and stopped and looked at her for a while. The crust was gone now, and she looked at me with her black, friendly stare. The woman stood on the stoop, watching us.

“Come on, then,” I said. “We’ll have to find the right one sooner or later.”

She moved along just under my elbow. We went on. The houses all seemed empty. Not a soul in sight. A sort of breathlessness that empty houses have. Yet they couldnt all be empty. All the different rooms, if you could just slice the walls away all of a sudden Madam, your daughter, if you please. No. Madam, for God’s sake, your daughter. She moved along just under my elbow, her shiny tight pigtails, and then the last house played out and the road curved out of sight beyond a wall, following the river. The woman was emerging from the broken gate, with a shawl over her head and clutched under her chin. The road curved on, empty. I found a coin and gave it to the little girl. A quarter. “Goodbye, sister,” I said. Then I ran.

I ran fast, not looking back. Just before the road curved away I looked back. She stood in the road, a small figure clasping the loaf of bread to her filthy little dress, her eyes still and black and unwinking. I ran on.

A lane turned from the road. I entered it and after a while I slowed to a fast walk. The lane went between back premises—unpainted houses with more of those gay and startling coloured garments on lines, a barn broken-backed, decaying quietly among rank orchard trees, unpruned and weedchoked, pink and white and murmurous with sunlight and with bees. I looked back. The entrance to the lane was empty. I slowed still more, my shadow pacing me, dragging its head through the weeds that hid the fence.

The lane went back to a barred gate, became defunctive in grass, a mere path scarred quietly into new grass. I climbed the gate into a woodlot and crossed it and came to another wall and followed that one, my shadow behind me now. There were vines and creepers where at home would be honeysuckle. Coming and coming especially in the dusk when it rained, getting honeysuckle all mixed up in it as though it were not enough without that, not unbearable enough. What did you let him for kiss kiss

I didn’t let him I made him watching me getting mad What do you think of that? Red print of my hand coming up through her face like turning a light on under your hand her eyes going bright

It’s not for kissing I slapped you. Girl’s elbows at fifteen Father said you swallow like you had a fishbone in your throat what’s the matter with you and Caddy across the table not to look at me. It’s for letting it be some darn town squirt I slapped you you will will you now I guess you say calf rope. My red hand coming up out of her face. What do you think of that scouring her head into the. Grass sticks crisscrossed into the flesh tingling scouring her head. Say calf rope say it

I didnt kiss a dirty girl like Natalie anyway The wall went into shadow, and then my shadow, I had tricked it again. I had forgot about the river curving along the road. I climbed the wall. And then she watched me jump down, holding the loaf against her dress.

I stood in the weeds and we looked at one another for a while.

“Why didnt you tell me you lived out this way, sister?” The loaf was wearing slowly out of the paper; already it needed a new one. “Well, come on then and show me the house.” not a dirty girl like Natalie. It was raining we could hear it on the roof, sighing through the high sweet emptiness of the barn.

There? touching her

Not there

There? not raining hard but we couldnt hear anything but the roof and as if it was my blood or her blood

She pushed me down the ladder and ran off and left me Caddy did

Was it there it hurt you when Caddy did ran off was it there

Oh She walked just under my elbow, the top of her patent leather head, the loaf fraying out of the newspaper.

“If you dont get home pretty soon you’re going to wear that loaf out. And then what’ll your mamma say?” I bet I can lift you up

You cant I’m too heavy

Did Caddy go away did she go to the house you cant see the barn from our house did you ever try to see the barn from

It was her fault she pushed me she ran away

I can lift you up see how I can

oh her blood or my blood Oh We went on in the thin dust, our feet silent as rubber in the thin dust where pencils of sun slanted in the trees. And I could feel water again running swift and peaceful in the secret shade.

“You live a long way, dont you. You’re mighty smart to go this far to town by yourself.” It’s like dancing sitting down did you ever dance sitting down? We could hear the rain, a rat in the crib, the empty barn vacant with horses. How do you hold to dance do you hold like this


I used to hold like this you thought I wasnt strong enough didn’t you

Oh Oh Oh Oh

I hold to use like this I mean did you hear what I said I said

oh oh oh oh

The road went on, still and empty, the sun slanting more and more. Her stiff little pigtails were bound at the tips with bits of crimson cloth. A corner of the wrapping flapped a little as she walked, the nose of the loaf naked. I stopped.

“Look here. Do you live down this road? We havent passed a house in a mile, almost.”

She looked at me, black and secret and friendly.

“Where do you live, sister? Dont you live back there in town?”

There was a bird somewhere in the woods, beyond the broken and infrequent slanting of sunlight.

“Your papa’s going to be worried about you. Dont you reckon you’ll get a whipping for not coming straight home with that bread?”

The bird whistled again, invisible, a sound meaningless and profound, inflexionless, ceasing as though cut off with the blow of a knife, and again, and that sense of water swift and peaceful above secret places, felt, not seen not heard.

“Oh, hell, sister.” About half the paper hung limp. “That’s not doing any good now.” I tore it off and dropped it beside the road. “Come on. We’ll have to go back to town. We’ll go back along the river.”

We left the road. Among the moss little pale flowers grew, and the sense of water mute and unseen. I hold to use like this I mean I use to hold She stood in the door looking at us her hands on her hips

You pushed me it was your fault it hurt me too

We were dancing sitting down I bet Caddy cant dance sitting down

Stop that stop that

I was just brushing the trash off the back of your dress

You keep your nasty old hands off of me it was your fault you pushed me down I’m mad at you

I dont care she looked at us stay mad she went away We began to hear the shouts, the splashings; I saw a brown body gleam for an instant.

Stay mad. My shirt was getting wet and my hair. Across the roof hearing the roof loud now I could see Natalie going through the garden among the rain. Get wet I hope you catch pneumonia go on home Cowface. I jumped hard as I could into the hogwallow and mud yellowed up to my waist stinking I kept on plunging until I fell down and rolled over in it “Hear them in swimming, sister? I wouldn’t mind doing that myself.” If I had time. When I have time. I could hear my watch. mud was warmer than the rain it smelled awful. She had her back turned I went around in front of her. You know what I was doing? She turned her back I went around in front of her the rain creeping into the mud flatting her bodice through her dress it smelled horrible. I was hugging her that’s what I was doing. She turned her back I went around in front of her. I was hugging her I tell you.

I dont give a damn what you were doing

You dont you dont I’ll make you I’ll make you give a damn. She hit my hands away I smeared mud on her with the other hand I couldn’t feel the wet smacking of her hand I wiped mud from my legs smeared it on her wet hard turning body hearing her fingers going into my face but I couldn’t feel it even when the rain began to taste sweet on my lips

They saw us from the water first, heads and shoulders. They yelled and one rose squatting and sprang among them. They looked like beavers, the water lipping about their chins, yelling.

“Take that girl away! What did you want to bring a girl here for? Go on away!”

“She wont hurt you. We just want to watch you for a while.”

They squatted in the water. Their heads drew into a clump, watching us, then they broke and rushed toward us, hurling water with their hands. We moved quick.

“Look out, boys; she wont hurt you.”

“Go on away, Harvard!” It was the second boy, the one that thought the horse and wagon back there at the bridge. “Splash them, fellows!”

“Let’s get out and throw them in,” another said. “I aint afraid of any girl.”

“Splash them! Splash them!” They rushed toward us, hurling water. We moved back. “Go on away!” they yelled. “Go on away!”

We went away. They huddled just under the bank, their slick heads in a row against the bright water. We went on. “That’s not for us, is it.” The sun slanted through to the moss here and there, leveller. “Poor kid, you’re just a girl.” Little flowers grew among the moss, littler than I had ever seen. “You’re just a girl. Poor kid.” There was a path, curving along beside the water. Then the water was still again, dark and still and swift. “Nothing but a girl. Poor sister.” We lay in the wet grass panting the rain like cold shot on my back. Do you care now do you do you

My Lord we sure are in a mess get up. Where the rain touched my forehead it began to smart my hand came red away streaking off pink in the rain. Does it hurt

Of course it does what do you reckon

I tried to scratch your eyes out my Lord we sure do stink we better try to wash it off in the branch “There’s town again, sister. You’ll have to go home now. I’ve got to get back to school. Look how late it’s getting. You’ll go home now, wont you?” But she just looked at me with her black, secret, friendly gaze, the half-naked loaf clutched to her breast. “It’s wet. I thought we jumped back in time.” I took my handkerchief and tried to wipe the loaf, but the crust began to come off, so I stopped. “We’ll just have to let it dry itself. Hold it like this.” She held it like that. It looked kind of like rats had been eating it now. and the water building and building up the squatting back the sloughed mud stinking surfaceward pocking the pattering surface like grease on a hot stove. I told you I’d make you

I dont give a goddam what you do

Then we heard the running and we stopped and looked back and saw him coming up the path running, the level shadows flicking upon his legs.

“He’s in a hurry. We’d—” then I saw another man, an oldish man running heavily, clutching a stick, and a boy naked from the waist up, clutching his pants as he ran.

“There’s Julio,” the little girl said, and then I saw his Italian face and his eyes as he sprang upon me. We went down. His hands were jabbing at my face and he was saying something and trying to bite me, I reckon, and then they hauled him off and held him heaving and thrashing and yelling and they held his arms and he tried to kick me until they dragged him back. The little girl was howling, holding the loaf in both arms. The half-naked boy was darting and jumping up and down, clutching his trousers and someone pulled me up in time to see another stark naked figure come around the tranquil bend in the path running and change direction in midstride and leap into the woods, a couple of garments rigid as boards behind it. Julio still struggled. The man who had pulled me up said, “Whoa, now. We got you.” He wore a vest but no coat. Upon it was a metal shield. In his other hand he clutched a knotted, polished stick.

“You’re Anse, aren’t you?” I said. “I was looking for you. What’s the matter?”

“I warn you that anything you say will be used against you,” he said. “You’re under arrest.”

“I killa heem,” Julio said. He struggled. Two men held him. The little girl howled steadily, holding the bread. “You steala my seester,” Julio said. “Let go, meesters.”

“Steal his sister?” I said. “Why, I’ve been—”

“Shet up,” Anse said. “You can tell that to Squire.”

“Steal his sister?” I said. Julio broke from the men and sprang at me again, but the marshal met him and they struggled until the other two pinioned his arms again. Anse released him, panting.

“You durn furriner,” he said, “I’ve got a good mind to take you up too, for assault and battery.” He turned to me again. “Will you come peaceable, or do I handcuff you?”

“I’ll come peaceable,” I said. “Anything, just so I can find someone—do something with—Stole his sister,” I said. “Stole his—”

“I’ve warned you,” Anse said, “He aims to charge you with meditated criminal assault. Here, you, make that gal shut up that noise.”

“Oh,” I said. Then I began to laugh. Two more boys with plastered heads and round eyes came out of the bushes, buttoning shirts that had already dampened onto their shoulders and arms, and I tried to stop the laughter, but I couldnt.

“Watch him, Anse, he’s crazy, I believe.”

“I’ll h-have to qu-quit,” I said, “It’ll stop in a mu-minute. The other time it said ah ah ah,” I said, laughing. “Let me sit down a while.” I sat down, they watching me, and the little girl with her streaked face and the gnawed looking loaf, and the water swift and peaceful below the path. After a while the laughter ran out. But my throat wouldnt quit trying to laugh, like retching after your stomach is empty.

“Whoa, now,” Anse said. “Get a grip on yourself.”

“Yes,” I said, tightening my throat. There was another yellow butterfly, like one of the sunflecks had come loose. After a while I didnt have to hold my throat so tight. I got up. “I’m ready. Which way?”

We followed the path, the two others watching Julio and the little girl and the boys somewhere in the rear. The path went along the river to the bridge. We crossed it and the tracks, people coming to the doors to look at us and more boys materializing from somewhere until when we turned into the main street we had quite a procession. Before the drugstore stood an auto, a big one, but I didn’t recognise them until Mrs Bland said,

“Why, Quentin! Quentin Compson!” Then I saw Gerald, and Spoade in the back seat, sitting on the back of his neck. And Shreve. I didnt know the two girls.

“Quentin Compson!” Mrs Bland said.

“Good afternoon,” I said, raising my hat. “I’m under arrest. I’m sorry I didnt get your note. Did Shreve tell you?”

“Under arrest?” Shreve said. “Excuse me,” he said. He heaved himself up and climbed over their feet and got out. He had on a pair of my flannel pants, like a glove. I didnt remember forgetting them. I didnt remember how many chins Mrs Bland had, either. The prettiest girl was with Gerald in front, too. They watched me through veils, with a kind of delicate horror. “Who’s under arrest?” Shreve said. “What’s this, mister?”

“Gerald,” Mrs Bland said, “Send these people away. You get in this car, Quentin.”

Gerald got out. Spoade hadnt moved.

“What’s he done, Cap?” he said. “Robbed a hen house?”

“I warn you,” Anse said. “Do you know the prisoner?”

“Know him,” Shreve said. “Look here—”

“Then you can come along to the squire’s. You’re obstructing justice. Come along.” He shook my arm.

“Well, good afternoon,” I said. “I’m glad to have seen you all. Sorry I couldnt be with you.”

“You, Gerald,” Mrs Bland said.

“Look here, constable,” Gerald said.

“I warn you you’re interfering with an officer of the law,” Anse said. “If you’ve anything to say, you can come to the squire’s and make cognizance of the prisoner.” We went on. Quite a procession now, Anse and I leading. I could hear them telling them what it was, and Spoade asking questions, and then Julio said something violently in Italian and I looked back and saw the little girl standing at the curb looking at me with her friendly, inscrutable regard.

“Git on home,” Julio shouted at her, “I beat hell outa you.”

We went down the street and turned into a bit of lawn in which, set back from the street, stood a one storey building of brick trimmed with white. We went up the rock path to the door, where Anse halted everyone except us and made them remain outside. We entered a bare room smelling of stale tobacco. There was a sheet iron stove in the center of a wooden frame filled with sand, and a faded map on the wall and the dingy plat of a township. Behind a scarred littered table a man with a fierce roach of iron grey hair peered at us over steel spectacles.

“Got him, did ye, Anse?” he said.

“Got him, Squire.”

He opened a huge dusty book and drew it to him and dipped a foul pen into an inkwell filled with what looked like coal dust.

“Look here, mister,” Shreve said.

“The prisoner’s name,” the squire said. I told him. He wrote it slowly into the books, the pen scratching with excruciating deliberation.

“Look here, mister,” Shreve said, “We know this fellow. We—”

“Order in the court,” Anse said.

“Shut up, bud,” Spoade said. “Let him do it his way. He’s going to anyhow.”

“Age,” the squire said. I told him. He wrote that, his mouth moving as he wrote. “Occupation.” I told him. “Harvard student, hey?” he said. He looked up at me, bowing his neck a little to see over the spectacles. His eyes were clear and cold, like a goat’s. “What are you up to, coming out here kidnapping children?”

“They’re crazy, Squire,” Shreve said. “Whoever says this boy’s kidnapping—”

Julio moved violently. “Crazy?” he said. “Dont I catcha heem, eh? Dont I see weetha my own eyes—”

“You’re a liar,” Shreve said. “You never—”

“Order, order,” Anse said, raising his voice.

“You fellers shet up,” the squire said. “If they dont stay quiet, turn ’em out, Anse.” They got quiet. The squire looked at Shreve, then at Spoade, then at Gerald. “You know this young man?” he said to Spoade.

“Yes, your honour,” Spoade said. “He’s just a country boy in school up there. He dont mean any harm. I think the marshal’ll find it’s a mistake. His father’s a congregational minister.”

“H’m,” the squire said. “What was you doing, exactly?” I told him, he watching me with his cold, pale eyes. “How about it, Anse?”

“Might have been,” Anse said. “Them durn furriners.”

“I American,” Julio said. “I gotta da pape’.”

“Where’s the gal?”

“He sent her home,” Anse said.

“Was she scared or anything?”

“Not till Julio there jumped on the prisoner. They were just walking along the river path, towards town. Some boys swimming told us which way they went.”

“It’s a mistake, Squire,” Spoade said. “Children and dogs are always taking up with him like that. He cant help it.”

“H’m,” the squire said. He looked out of the window for a while. We watched him. I could hear Julio scratching himself. The squire looked back.

“Air you satisfied the gal aint took any hurt, you, there?”

“No hurt now,” Julio said sullenly.

“You quit work to hunt for her?”

“Sure I quit. I run. I run like hell. Looka here, looka there, then man tella me he seen him giva her she eat. She go weetha.”

“H’m,” the squire said. “Well, son, I calculate you owe Julio something for taking him away from his work.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “How much?”

“Dollar, I calculate.”

I gave Julio a dollar.

“Well,” Spoade said, “If that’s all—I reckon he’s discharged, your honour?”

The squire didn’t look at him. “How far’d you run him, Anse?”

“Two miles, at least. It was about two hours before we caught him.”

“H’m,” the squire said. He mused a while. We watched him, his stiff crest, the spectacles riding low on his nose. The yellow shape of the window grew slowly across the floor, reached the wall, climbing. Dust motes whirled and slanted. “Six dollars.”

“Six dollars?” Shreve said. “What’s that for?”

“Six dollars,” the squire said. He looked at Shreve a moment, then at me again.

“Look here,” Shreve said.

“Shut up,” Spoade said. “Give it to him, bud, and let’s get out of here. The ladies are waiting for us. You got six dollars?”

“Yes,” I said. I gave him six dollars.

“Case dismissed,” he said.

“You get a receipt,” Shreve said. “You get a signed receipt for that money.”

The squire looked at Shreve mildly. “Case dismissed,” he said without raising his voice.

“I’ll be damned—” Shreve said.

“Come on here,” Spoade said, taking his arm. “Good afternoon, Judge. Much obliged.” As we passed out the door Julio’s voice rose again, violent, then ceased. Spoade was looking at me, his brown eyes quizzical, a little cold. “Well, bud, I reckon you’ll do your girl chasing in Boston after this.”

“You damned fool,” Shreve said, “What the hell do you mean anyway, straggling off here, fooling with these damn wops?”

“Come on,” Spoade said, “They must be getting impatient.”

Mrs Bland was talking to them. They were Miss Holmes and Miss Daingerfield and they quit listening to her and looked at me again with that delicate and curious horror, their veils turned back upon their little white noses and their eyes fleeing and mysterious beneath the veils.

“Quentin Compson,” Mrs Bland said, “What would your mother say? A young man naturally gets into scrapes, but to be arrested on foot by a country policeman. What did they think he’d done, Gerald?”

“Nothing,” Gerald said.

“Nonsense. What was it, you, Spoade?”

“He was trying to kidnap that little dirty girl, but they caught him in time,” Spoade said.

“Nonsense,” Mrs Bland said, but her voice sort of died away and she stared at me for a moment, and the girls drew their breaths in with a soft concerted sound. “Fiddlesticks,” Mrs Bland said briskly, “If that isn’t just like these ignorant lowclass Yankees. Get in, Quentin.”

Shreve and I sat on two small collapsible seats. Gerald cranked the car and got in and we started.

“Now, Quentin, you tell me what all this foolishness is about,” Mrs Bland said. I told them, Shreve hunched and furious on his little seat and Spoade sitting again on the back of his neck beside Miss Daingerfield.

“And the joke is, all the time Quentin had us all fooled,” Spoade said. “All the time we thought he was the model youth that anybody could trust a daughter with, until the police showed him up at his nefarious work.”

“Hush up, Spoade,” Mrs Bland said. We drove down the street and crossed the bridge and passed the house where the pink garment hung in the window. “That’s what you get for not reading my note. Why didnt you come and get it? Mr MacKenzie says he told you it was there.”

“Yessum. I intended to, but I never went back to the room.”

“You’d have let us sit there waiting I dont know how long, if it hadnt been for Mr MacKenzie. When he said you hadnt come back, that left an extra place, so we asked him to come. We’re very glad to have you anyway, Mr MacKenzie.” Shreve said nothing. His arms were folded and he glared straight ahead past Gerald’s cap. It was a cap for motoring in England. Mrs Bland said so. We passed that house, and three others, and another yard where the little girl stood by the gate. She didnt have the bread now, and her face looked like it had been streaked with coal dust. I waved my hand, but she made no reply, only her head turned slowly as the car passed, following us with her unwinking gaze. Then we ran beside the wall, our shadows running along the wall, and after a while we passed a piece of torn newspaper lying beside the road and I began to laugh again. I could feel it in my throat and I looked off into the trees where the afternoon slanted, thinking of afternoon and of the bird and the boys in swimming. But still I couldnt stop it and then I knew that if I tried too hard to stop it I’d be crying and I thought about how I’d thought about I could not be a virgin, with so many of them walking along in the shadows and whispering with their soft girlvoices lingering in the shadowy places and the words coming out and perfume and eyes you could feel not see, but if it was that simple to do it wouldnt be anything and if it wasnt anything, what was I and then Mrs Bland said, “Quentin? Is he sick, Mr MacKenzie?” and then Shreve’s fat hand touched my knee and Spoade began talking and I quit trying to stop it.

“If that hamper is in his way, Mr MacKenzie, move it over on your side. I brought a hamper of wine because I think young gentlemen should drink wine, although my father, Gerald’s grandfather” ever do that Have you ever done that In the grey darkness a little light her hands locked about

“They do, when they can get it,” Spoade said. “Hey, Shreve?” her knees her face looking at the sky the smell of honeysuckle upon her face and throat

“Beer, too,” Shreve said. His hand touched my knee again. I moved my knee again. like a thin wash of lilac coloured paint talking about him bringing

“You’re not a gentleman,” Spoade said. him between us until the shape of her blurred not with dark

“No. I’m Canadian,” Shreve said. talking about him the oar blades winking him along winking the Cap made for motoring in England and all time rushing beneath and they two blurred within the other forever more he had been in the army had killed men

“I adore Canada,” Miss Daingerfield said. “I think it’s marvellous.”

“Did you ever drink perfume?” Spoade said, with one hand he could lift her to his shoulder and run with her running Running

“No,” Shreve said. running the beast with two backs and she blurred in the winking oars running the swine of Euboeleus running coupled within how many Caddy

“Neither did I,” Spoade said. I dont know too many there was something terrible in me terrible in me Father I have committed Have you ever done that We didnt we didnt do that did we do that

“and Gerald’s grandfather always picked his own mint before breakfast, while the dew was still on it. He wouldnt even let old Wilkie touch it do you remember Gerald but always gathered it himself and made his own julep. He was as crotchety about his julep as an old maid, measuring everything by a recipe in his head. There was only one man he ever gave that recipe to; that was” we did how can you not know if it youll just wait I’ll tell you how it was it was a crime we did a terrible crime it cannot be hid you think it can but wait  Poor Quentin youve never done that have you  and I’ll tell you how it was I’ll tell Father then itll have to be because you love Father then we’ll have to go away amid the pointing and the horror the clean flame I’ll make you say we did I’m stronger than you I’ll make you know we did you thought it was them but it was me listen I fooled you all the time it was me you thought I was in the house where that damn honeysuckle trying not to think the swing the cedars the secret surges the breathing locked drinking the wild breath the yes Yes Yes yes  “never be got to drink wine himself, but he always said that a hamper what book did you read that in the one where Geralds rowing suit of wine was a necessary part of any gentlemen’s picnic basket” did you love them Caddy did you love them When they touched me I died

one minute she was standing there the next he was yelling and pulling at her dress they went into the hall and up the stairs yelling and shoving at her up the stairs to the bathroom door and stopped her back against the door and her arm across her face yelling and trying to shove her into the bathroom when she came in to supper T. P. was feeding him he started again just whimpering at first until she touched him then he yelled she stood there her eyes like cornered rats then I was running in the grey darkness it smelled of rain and all flower scents the damp warm air released and crickets sawing away in the grass pacing me with a small travelling island of silence Fancy watched me across the fence blotchy like a quilt on a line I thought damn that nigger he forgot to feed her again I ran down the hill in that vacuum of crickets like a breath travelling across a mirror she was lying in the water her head on the sand spit the water flowing about her hips there was a little more light in the water her skirt half saturated flopped along her flanks to the waters motion in heavy ripples going nowhere renewed themselves of their own movement I stood on the bank I could smell the honeysuckle on the water gap the air seemed to drizzle with honeysuckle and with the rasping of crickets a substance you could feel on the flesh

is Benjy still crying

I dont know yes I dont know

poor Benjy

I sat down on the bank the grass was damp a little then I found my shoes wet

get out of that water are you crazy

but she didnt move her face was a white blur framed out of the blur of the sand by her hair

get out now

she sat up then she rose her skirt flopped against her draining she climbed the bank her clothes flopping sat down

why dont you wring it out do you want to catch cold


the water sucked and gurgled across the sand spit and on in the dark among the willows across the shallow the water rippled like a piece of cloth holding still a little light as water does

he’s crossed all the oceans all around the world

then she talked about him clasping her wet knees her face tilted back in the grey light the smell of honeysuckle there was a light in mothers room and in Benjys where T. P. was putting him to bed

do you love him

her hand came out I didnt move it fumbled down my arm and she held my hand flat against her chest her heart thudding

no no

did he make you then he made you do it let him he was stronger than you and he tomorrow Ill kill him I swear I will father neednt know until afterward and then you and I nobody need ever know we can take my school money we can cancel my matriculation Caddy you hate him dont you dont you

she held my hand against her chest her heart thudding I turned and caught her arm

Caddy you hate him dont you

she moved my hand up against her throat her heart was hammering there

poor Quentin

her face looked at the sky it was low so low that all smells and sounds of night seemed to have been crowded down like under a slack tent especially the honeysuckle it had got into my breathing it was on her face and throat like paint her blood pounded against my hand I was leaning on my other arm it began to jerk and jump and I had to pant to get any air at all out of that thick grey honeysuckle

yes I hate him I would die for him I’ve already died for him I die for him over and over again everytime this goes

when I lifted my hand I could still feel crisscrossed twigs and grass burning into the palm

poor Quentin

she leaned back on her arms her hands locked about her knees

youve never done that have you

what done what

that what I have what I did

yes yes lots of times with lots of girls

then I was crying her hand touched me again and I was crying against her damp blouse then she lying on her back looking past my head into the sky I could see a rim of white under her irises I opened my knife

do you remember the day damuddy died when you sat down in the water in your drawers


I held the point of the knife at her throat

it wont take but a second just a second then I can do mine I can do mine then

all right can you do yours by yourself

yes the blades long enough Benjys in bed by now


it wont take but a second Ill try not to hurt

all right

will you close your eyes

no like this youll have to push it harder

touch your hand to it

but she didnt move her eyes were wide open looking past my head at the sky

Caddy do you remember how Dilsey fussed at you because your drawers were muddy

dont cry

Im not crying Caddy

push it are you going to

do you want me to

yes push it

touch your hand to it

dont cry poor Quentin

but I couldnt stop she held my head against her damp hard breast I could hear her heart going firm and slow now not hammering and the water gurgling among the willows in the dark and waves of honeysuckle coming up the air my arm and shoulder were twisted under me

what is it what are you doing

her muscles gathered I sat up

its my knife I dropped it

she sat up

what time is it

I dont know

she rose to her feet I fumbled along the ground

Im going let it go

I could feel her standing there I could smell her damp clothes feeling her there

its right here somewhere

let it go you can find it tomorrow come on

wait a minute I’ll find it

are you afraid to

here it is it was right here all the time

was it come on

I got up and followed we went up the hill the crickets hushing before us

its funny how you can sit down and drop something and have to hunt all around for it

the grey it was grey with dew slanting up into the grey sky then the trees beyond

damn that honeysuckle I wish it would stop

you used to like it

we crossed the crest and went on toward the trees she walked into me she gave over a little the ditch was a black scar on the grey grass she walked into me again she looked at me and gave over we reached the ditch

lets go this way

what for

lets see if you can still see Nancys bones I havent thought to look in a long time have you

it was matted with vines and briers dark

they were right here you cant tell whether you see them or not can you

stop Quentin

come on

the ditch narrowed closed she turned toward the trees

stop Quentin


I got in front of her again


stop it

I held her

Im stronger than you

she was motionless hard unyielding but still

I wont fight stop youd better stop

Caddy dont Caddy

it wont do any good dont you know it wont let me go

the honeysuckle drizzled and drizzled I could hear the crickets watching us in a circle she moved back went around me on toward the trees

you go on back to the house you neednt come

I went on

why dont you go on back to the house

damn that honeysuckle

we reached the fence she crawled through I crawled through when I rose from stooping he was coming out of the trees into the grey toward us coming toward us tall and flat and still even moving like he was still she went to him

this is Quentin Im wet Im wet all over you dont have to if you dont want to

their shadows one shadow her head rose it was above his on the sky higher their two heads

you dont have to if you dont want to

then not two heads the darkness smelled of rain of damp grass and leaves the grey light drizzling like rain the honeysuckle coming up in damp waves I could see her face a blur against his shoulder he held her in one arm like she was no bigger than a child he extended his hand

glad to know you

we shook hands then we stood there her shadow high against his shadow one shadow

whatre you going to do Quentin

walk a while I think Ill go through the woods to the road and come back through town

I turned away going



I stopped

what do you want

in the woods the tree frogs were going smelling rain in the air they sounded like toy music boxes that were hard to turn and the honeysuckle

come here

what do you want

come here Quentin

I went back she touched my shoulder leaning down her shadow the blur of her face leaning down from his high shadow I drew back

look out

you go on home

Im not sleepy Im going to take a walk

wait for me at the branch

Im going for a walk

Ill be there soon wait for me you wait

no Im going through the woods

I didnt look back the tree frogs didnt pay me any mind the grey light like moss in the trees drizzling but still it wouldnt rain after a while I turned went back to the edge of the woods as soon as I got there I began to smell honeysuckle again I could see the lights on the courthouse clock and the glare of town the square on the sky and the dark willows along the branch and the light in mothers windows the light still on in Benjys room and I stooped through the fence and went across the pasture running I ran in the grey grass among the crickets the honeysuckle getting stronger and stronger and the smell of water then I could see the water the colour of grey honeysuckle I lay down on the bank with my face close to the ground so I couldnt smell the honeysuckle I couldnt smell it then and I lay there feeling the earth going through my clothes listening to the water and after a while I wasnt breathing so hard and I lay there thinking that if I didnt move my face I wouldnt have to breathe hard and smell it and then I wasnt thinking about anything at all she came along the bank and stopped I didnt move

its late you go on home


you go on home its late

all right

her clothes rustled I didnt move they stopped rustling

are you going in like I told you

I didnt hear anything


yes I will if you want me to I will

I sat up she was sitting on the ground her hands clasped about her knee

go on to the house like I told you

yes Ill do anything you want me to anything yes

she didnt even look at me I caught her shoulder and shook her hard

you shut up

I shook her

you shut up you shut up


she lifted her face then I saw she wasnt even looking at me at all I could see that white rim

get up

I pulled her she was limp I lifted her to her feet

go on now

was Benjy still crying when you left

go on

we crossed the branch the roof came in sight then the window upstairs

hes asleep now

I had to stop and fasten the gate she went on in the grey light the smell of rain and still it wouldnt rain and honeysuckle beginning to come from the garden fence beginning she went into the shadow I could hear her feet then


I stopped at the steps I couldnt hear her feet


I heard her feet then my hand touched her not warm not cool just still her clothes a little damp still

do you love him now

not breathing except slow like far away breathing

Caddy do you love him now

I dont know

outside the grey light the shadows of things like dead things in stagnant water

I wish you were dead

do you you coming in now

are you thinking about him now

I dont know

tell me what youre thinking about tell me

stop stop Quentin

you shut up you shut up you hear me you shut up are you going to shut up

all right I will stop we’ll make too much noise

Ill kill you do you hear

lets go out to the swing theyll hear you here

Im not crying do you say Im crying

no hush now we’ll wake Benjy up

you go on into the house go on now

I am dont cry Im bad anyway you cant help it

theres a curse on us its not our fault is it our fault

hush come on and go to bed now

you cant make me theres a curse on us

finally I saw him he was just going into the barbershop he looked out I went on and waited

Ive been looking for you two or three days

you wanted to see me

Im going to see you

he rolled the cigarette quickly with about two motions he struck the match with his thumb

we cant talk here suppose I meet you somewhere

Ill come to your room are you at the hotel

no thats not so good you know that bridge over the creek in there back of

yes all right

at one oclock right


I turned away

Im obliged to you


I stopped looked back

she all right

he looked like he was made out of bronze his khaki shirt

she need me for anything now

I’ll be there at one

she heard me tell T. P. to saddle Prince at one oclock she kept watching me not eating much she came too

what are you going to do

nothing cant I go for a ride if I want to

youre going to do something what is it

none of your business whore whore

T. P. had Prince at the side door

I wont want him Im going to walk

I went down the drive and out the gate I turned into the lane then I ran before I reached the bridge I saw him leaning on the rail the horse was hitched in the woods he looked over his shoulder then he turned his back he didnt look up until I came onto the bridge and stopped he had a piece of bark in his hands breaking pieces from it and dropping them over the rail into the water

I came to tell you to leave town

he broke a piece of bark deliberately dropped it carefully into the water watched it float away

I said you must leave town

he looked at me

did she send you to me

I say you must go not my father not anybody I say it

listen save this for a while I want to know if shes all right have they been bothering her up there

thats something you dont need to trouble yourself about

then I heard myself saying Ill give you until sundown to leave town

he broke a piece of bark and dropped it into the water then he laid the bark on the rail and rolled a cigarette with those two swift motions spun the match over the rail

what will you do if I dont leave

Ill kill you dont think that just because I look like a kid to you the smoke flowed in two jets from his nostrils across his face how old are you

I began to shake my hands were on the rail I thought if I hid them hed know why

Ill give you until tonight

listen buddy whats your name Benjys the natural isnt he you are


my mouth said it I didnt say it at all

Ill give you till sundown


he raked the cigarette ash carefully off against the rail he did it slowly and carefully like sharpening a pencil my hands had quit shaking

listen no good taking it so hard its not your fault kid it would have been some other fellow

did you ever have a sister did you

no but theyre all bitches

I hit him my open hand beat the impulse to shut it to his face his hand moved as fast as mine the cigarette went over the rail I swung with the other hand he caught it too before the cigarette reached the water he held both my wrists in the same hand his other hand flicked to his armpit under his coat behind him the sun slanted and a bird singing somewhere beyond the sun we looked at one another while the bird singing he turned my hands loose

look here

he took the bark from the rail and dropped it into the water it bobbed up the current took it floated away his hand lay on the rail holding the pistol loosely we waited

you cant hit it now


it floated on it was quite still in the woods I heard the bird again and the water afterward the pistol came up he didnt aim at all the bark disappeared then pieces of it floated up spreading he hit two more of them pieces of bark no bigger than silver dollars

thats enough I guess

he swung the cylinder out and blew into the barrel a thin wisp of smoke dissolved he reloaded the three chambers shut the cylinder he handed it to me butt first

what for I wont try to beat that

youll need it from what you said Im giving you this one because youve seen what itll do

to hell with your gun

I hit him I was still trying to hit him long after he was holding my wrists but I still tried then it was like I was looking at him through a piece of coloured glass I could hear my blood and then I could see the sky again and branches against it and the sun slanting through them and he holding me on my feet

did you hit me

I couldnt hear


yes how do you feel

all right let go

he let me go I leaned against the rail

do you feel all right

let me alone Im all right

can you make it home all right

go on let me alone

youd better not try to walk take my horse

no you go on

you can hang the reins on the pommel and turn him loose he’ll go back to the stable

let me alone you go on and let me alone

I leaned on the rail looking at the water I heard him untie the horse and ride off and after a while I couldnt hear anything but the water and then the bird again I left the bridge and sat down with my back against a tree and leaned my head against the tree and shut my eyes a patch of sun came through and fell across my eyes and I moved a little further around the tree I heard the bird again and the water and then everything sort of rolled away and I didnt feel anything at all I felt almost good after all those days and the nights with honeysuckle coming up out of the darkness into my room where I was trying to sleep even when after a while I knew that he hadnt hit me that he had lied about that for her sake too and that I had just passed out like a girl but even that didnt matter anymore and I sat there against the tree with little flecks of sunlight brushing across my face like yellow leaves on a twig listening to the water and not thinking about anything at all even when I heard the horse coming fast I sat there with my eyes closed and heard its feet bunch scuttering the hissing sand and feet running and her hard running hands

fool fool are you hurt

I opened my eyes her hands running on my face

I didnt know which way until I heard the pistol I didnt know where I didnt think he and you running off slipping I didnt think he would have

she held my face between her hands bumping my head against the tree

stop stop that

I caught her wrists

quit that quit it

I knew he wouldnt I knew he wouldnt

she tried to bump my head against the tree

I told him never to speak to me again I told him

she tried to break her wrists free

let me go

stop it I’m stronger than you stop it now

let me go Ive got to catch him and ask his let me go Quentin please let me go let me go

all at once she quit her wrists went lax

yes I can tell him I can make him believe anytime I can make him


she hadnt hitched Prince he was liable to strike out for home if the notion took him

anytime he will believe me

do you love him Caddy

do I what

she looked at me then everything emptied out of her eyes and they looked like the eyes in the statues blank and unseeing and serene

put your hand against my throat

she took my hand and held it flat against her throat

now say his name

Dalton Ames

I felt the first surge of blood there it surged in strong accelerating beats

say it again

her face looked off into the trees where the sun slanted and where the bird

say it again

Dalton Ames

her blood surged steadily beating and beating against my hand

It kept on running for a long time, but my face felt cold and sort of dead, and my eye, and the cut place on my finger was smarting again. I could hear Shreve working the pump, then he came back with the basin and a round blob of twilight wobbling in it, with a yellow edge like a fading balloon, then my reflection. I tried to see my face in it.

“Has it stopped?” Shreve said. “Give me the rag.” He tried to take it from my hand.

“Look out,” I said, “I can do it. Yes, it’s about stopped now.” I dipped the rag again, breaking the balloon. The rag stained the water. “I wish I had a clean one.”

“You need a piece of beefsteak for that eye,” Shreve said. “Damn if you wont have a shiner tomorrow. The son of a bitch,” he said.

“Did I hurt him any?” I wrung out the handkerchief and tried to clean the blood off of my vest.

“You cant get that off,” Shreve said. “You’ll have to send it to the cleaner’s. Come on, hold it on your eye, why dont you.”

“I can get some of it off,” I said. But I wasn’t doing much good. “What sort of shape is my collar in?”

“I dont know,” Shreve said. “Hold it against your eye. Here.”

“Look out,” I said. “I can do it. Did I hurt him any?”

“You may have hit him. I may have looked away just then or blinked or something. He boxed the hell out of you. He boxed you all over the place. What did you want to fight him with your fists for? You goddamn fool. How do you feel?”

“I feel fine,” I said. “I wonder if I can get something to clean my vest.”

“Oh, forget your damn clothes. Does your eye hurt?”

“I feel fine,” I said. Everything was sort of violet and still, the sky green paling into gold beyond the gable of the house and a plume of smoke rising from the chimney without any wind. I heard the pump again. A man was filling a pail, watching us across his pumping shoulder. A woman crossed the door, but she didnt look out. I could hear a cow lowing somewhere.

“Come on,” Shreve said, “Let your clothes alone and put that rag on your eye. I’ll send your suit out first thing tomorrow.”

“All right. I’m sorry I didn’t bleed on him a little, at least.”

“Son of a bitch,” Shreve said. Spoade came out of the house, talking to the woman I reckon, and crossed the yard. He looked at me with his cold, quizzical eyes.

“Well, bud,” he said, looking at me, “I’ll be damned if you dont go to a lot of trouble to have your fun. Kidnapping, then fighting. What do you do on your holidays? burn houses?”

“I’m all right,” I said. “What did Mrs Bland say?”

“She’s giving Gerald hell for bloodying you up. She’ll give you hell for letting him, when she sees you. She dont object to the fighting, it’s the blood that annoys her. I think you lost caste with her a little by not holding your blood better. How do you feel?”

“Sure,” Shreve said, “If you cant be a Bland, the next best thing is to commit adultery with one or get drunk and fight him, as the case may be.”

“Quite right,” Spoade said. “But I didnt know Quentin was drunk.”

“He wasnt,” Shreve said. “Do you have to be drunk to want to hit that son of a bitch?”

“Well, I think I’d have to be pretty drunk to try it, after seeing how Quentin came out. Where’d he learn to box?”

“He’s been going to Mike’s every day, over in town,” I said.

“He has?” Spoade said. “Did you know that when you hit him?”

“I dont know,” I said. “I guess so. Yes.”

“Wet it again,” Shreve said. “Want some fresh water?”

“This is all right,” I said. I dipped the cloth again and held it to my eye. “Wish I had something to clean my vest.” Spoade was still watching me.

“Say,” he said, “What did you hit him for? What was it he said?”

“I dont know. I dont know why I did.”

“The first I knew was when you jumped up all of a sudden and said, ‘Did you ever have a sister? did you?’ and when he said No, you hit him. I noticed you kept on looking at him, but you didnt seem to be paying any attention to what anybody was saying until you jumped up and asked him if he had any sisters.”

“Ah, he was blowing off as usual,” Shreve said, “about his women. You know: like he does, before girls, so they dont know exactly what he’s saying. All his damn innuendo and lying and a lot of stuff that dont make sense even. Telling us about some wench that he made a date with to meet at a dance hall in Atlantic City and stood her up and went to the hotel and went to bed and how he lay there being sorry for her waiting on the pier for him, without him there to give her what she wanted. Talking about the body’s beauty and the sorry ends thereof and how tough women have it, without anything else they can do except lie on their backs. Leda lurking in the bushes, whimpering and moaning for the swan, see. The son of a bitch. I’d hit him myself. Only I’d grabbed up her damn hamper of wine and done it if it had been me.”

“Oh,” Spoade said, “the champion of dames. Bud, you excite not only admiration, but horror.” He looked at me, cold and quizzical. “Good God,” he said.

“I’m sorry I hit him,” I said. “Do I look too bad to go back and get it over with?”

“Apologies, hell,” Shreve said, “Let them go to hell. We’re going to town.”

“He ought to go back so they’ll know he fights like a gentleman,” Spoade said. “Gets licked like one, I mean.”

“Like this?” Shreve said, “With his clothes all over blood?”

“Why, all right,” Spoade said, “You know best.”

“He cant go around in his undershirt,” Shreve said, “He’s not a senior yet. Come on, let’s go to town.”

“You neednt come,” I said. “You go on back to the picnic.”

“Hell with them,” Shreve said. “Come on here.”

“What’ll I tell them?” Spoade said. “Tell them you and Quentin had a fight too?”

“Tell them nothing,” Shreve said. “Tell her her option expired at sunset. Come on, Quentin. I’ll ask that woman where the nearest interurban—”

“No,” I said, “I’m not going back to town.”

Shreve stopped, looking at me. Turning, his glasses looked like small yellow moons.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m not going back to town yet. You go on back to the picnic. Tell them I wouldnt come back because my clothes were spoiled.”

“Look here,” he said, “What are you up to?”

“Nothing. I’m all right. You and Spoade go on back. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I went on across the yard, toward the road.

“Do you know where the station is?” Shreve said.

“I’ll find it. I’ll see you all tomorrow. Tell Mrs Bland I’m sorry I spoiled her party.” They stood watching me. I went around the house. A rock path went down to the road. Roses grew on both sides of the path. I went through the gate, onto the road. It dropped downhill, toward the woods, and I could make out the auto beside the road. I went up the hill. The light increased as I mounted, and before I reached the top I heard a car. It sounded far away across the twilight and I stopped and listened to it. I couldnt make out the auto any longer, but Shreve was standing in the road before the house, looking up the hill. Behind him the yellow light lay like a wash of paint on the roof of the house. I lifted my hand and went on over the hill, listening to the car. Then the house was gone and I stopped in the green and yellow light and heard the car growing louder and louder, until just as it began to die away it ceased all together. I waited until I heard it start again. Then I went on.

As I descended the light dwindled slowly, yet at the same time without altering its quality, as if I and not light were changing, decreasing, though even when the road ran into trees you could have read a newspaper. Pretty soon I came to a lane. I turned into it. It was closer and darker than the road, but when it came out at the trolley stop—another wooden marquee—the light was still unchanged. After the lane it seemed brighter, as though I had walked through night in the lane and come out into morning again. Pretty soon the car came. I got on it, they turning to look at my eye, and found a seat on the left side.

The lights were on in the car, so while we ran between trees I couldnt see anything except my own face and a woman across the aisle with a hat sitting right on top of her head, with a broken feather in it, but when we ran out of the trees I could see the twilight again, that quality of light as if time really had stopped for a while, with the sun hanging just under the horizon, and then we passed the marquee where the old man had been eating out of the sack, and the road going on under the twilight, into twilight and the sense of water peaceful and swift beyond. Then the car went on, the draught building steadily up in the open door until it was drawing steadily through the car with the odour of summer and darkness except honeysuckle. Honeysuckle was the saddest odour of all, I think. I remember lots of them. Wistaria was one. On the rainy days when Mother wasnt feeling quite bad enough to stay away from the windows we used to play under it. When Mother stayed in bed Dilsey would put old clothes on us and let us go out in the rain because she said rain never hurt young folks. But if Mother was up we always began by playing on the porch until she said we were making too much noise, then we went out and played under the wistaria frame.

This was where I saw the river for the last time this morning, about here. I could feel water beyond the twilight, smell. When it bloomed in the spring and it rained the smell was everywhere you didnt notice it so much at other times but when it rained the smell began to come into the house at twilight either it would rain more at twilight or there was something in the light itself but it always smelled strongest then until I would lie in bed thinking when will it stop when will it stop. The draft in the door smelled of water, a damp steady breath. Sometimes I could put myself to sleep saying that over and over until after the honeysuckle got all mixed up in it the whole thing came to symbolise night and unrest I seemed to be lying neither asleep nor awake looking down a long corridor of grey halflight where all stable things had become shadowy paradoxical all I had done shadows all I had felt suffered taking visible form antic and perverse mocking without relevance inherent themselves with the denial of the significance they should have affirmed thinking I was I was not who was not was not who.

I could smell the curves of the river beyond the dusk and I saw the last light supine and tranquil upon tideflats like pieces of broken mirror, then beyond them lights began in the pale clear air, trembling a little like butterflies hovering a long way off. Benjamin the child of. How he used to sit before that mirror. Refuge unfailing in which conflict tempered silenced reconciled. Benjamin the child of mine old age held hostage into Egypt. O Benjamin. Dilsey said it was because Mother was too proud for him. They come into white people’s lives like that in sudden sharp black trickles that isolate white facts for an instant in unarguable truth like under a microscope; the rest of the time just voices that laugh when you see nothing to laugh at, tears when no reason for tears. They will bet on the odd or even number of mourners at a funeral. A brothel full of them in Memphis went into a religious trance ran naked into the street. It took three policemen to subdue one of them. Yes Jesus O good man Jesus O that good man.

The car stopped. I got out, with them looking at my eye. When the trolley came it was full. I stopped on the back platform.

“Seats up front,” the conductor said. I looked into the car. There were no seats on the left side.

“I’m not going far,” I said. “I’ll just stand here.”

We crossed the river. The bridge, that is, arching slow and high into space, between silence and nothingness where lights—yellow and red and green—trembled in the clear air, repeating themselves.

“Better go up front and get a seat,” the conductor said.

“I get off pretty soon,” I said. “A couple of blocks.”

I got off before we reached the postoffice. They’d all be sitting around somewhere by now though, and then I was hearing my watch and I began to listen for the chimes and I touched Shreve’s letter through my coat, the bitten shadows of the elms flowing upon my hand. And then as I turned into the quad the chimes did begin and I went on while the notes came up like ripples on a pool and passed me and went on, saying Quarter to what? All right. Quarter to what.

Our windows were dark. The entrance was empty. I walked close to the left wall when I entered, but it was empty: just the stairs curving up into shadows echoes of feet in the sad generations like light dust upon the shadows, my feet waking them like dust, lightly to settle again.

I could see the letter before I turned the light on, propped against a book on the table so I would see it. Calling him my husband. And then Spoade said they were going somewhere, would not be back until late, and Mrs Bland would need another cavalier. But I would have seen him and he cannot get another car for an hour because after six oclock. I took out my watch and listened to it clicking away, not knowing it couldnt even lie. Then I laid it face upon the table and took Mrs Bland’s letter and tore it across and dropped the pieces into the waste basket and took off my coat, vest, collar, tie and shirt. The tie was spoiled too, but then niggers. Maybe a pattern of blood he could call that the one Christ was wearing. I found the gasoline in Shreve’s room and spread the vest on the table, where it would be flat, and opened the gasoline.

the first car in town a girl Girl that’s what Jason couldn’t bear smell of gasoline making him sick then got madder than ever because a girl Girl had no sister but Benjamin Benjamin the child of my sorrowful if I’d just had a mother so I could say Mother Mother It took a lot of gasoline, and then I couldnt tell if it was still the stain or just the gasoline. It had started the cut to smarting again so when I went to wash I hung the vest on a chair and lowered the light cord so that the bulb would be drying the splotch. I washed my face and hands, but even then I could smell it within the soap stinging, constricting the nostrils a little. Then I opened the bag and took the shirt and collar and tie out and put the bloody ones in and closed the bag, and dressed. While I was brushing my hair the half hour went. But there was until the three quarters anyway, except suppose seeing on the rushing darkness only his own face no broken feather unless two of them but not two like that going to Boston the same night then my face his face for an instant across the crashing when out of darkness two lighted windows in rigid fleeing crash gone his face and mine just I see saw did I see not goodbye the marquee empty of eating the road empty in darkness in silence the bridge arching into silence darkness sleep the water peaceful and swift not goodbye

I turned out the light and went into my bedroom, out of the gasoline but I could still smell it. I stood at the window the curtains moved slow out of the darkness touching my face like someone breathing asleep, breathing slow into the darkness again, leaving the touch. After they had gone up stairs Mother lay back in her chair, the camphor handkerchief to her mouth. Father hadn’t moved he still sat beside her holding her hand the bellowing hammering away like no place for it in silence When I was little there was a picture in one of our books, a dark place into which a single weak ray of light came slanting upon two faces lifted out of the shadow. You know what I’d do if I were King? she never was a queen or a fairy she was always a king or a giant or a general I’d break that place open and drag them out and I’d whip them good It was torn out, jagged out. I was glad. I’d have to turn back to it until the dungeon was Mother herself she and Father upward into weak light holding hands and us lost somewhere below even them without even a ray of light. Then the honeysuckle got into it. As soon as I turned off the light and tried to go to sleep it would begin to come into the room in waves building and building up until I would have to pant to get any air at all out of it until I would have to get up and feel my way like when I was a little boy hands can see touching in the mind shaping unseen door Door now nothing hands can see My nose could see gasoline, the vest on the table, the door. The corridor was still empty of all the feet in sad generations seeking water. yet the eyes unseeing clenched like teeth not disbelieving doubting even the absence of pain shin ankle knee the long invisible flowing of the stair-railing where a misstep in the darkness filled with sleeping Mother Father Caddy Jason Maury door I am not afraid only Mother Father Caddy Jason Maury getting so far ahead sleeping I will sleep fast when I door Door door It was empty too, the pipes, the porcelain, the stained quiet walls, the throne of contemplation. I had forgotten the glass, but I could hands can see cooling fingers invisible swan-throat where less than Moses rod the glass touch tentative not to drumming lean cool throat drumming cooling the metal the glass full overfull cooling the glass the fingers flushing sleep leaving the taste of dampened sleep in the long silence of the throat I returned up the corridor, waking the lost feet in whispering battalions in the silence, into the gasoline, the watch telling its furious lie on the dark table. Then the curtains breathing out of the dark upon my face, leaving the breathing upon my face. A quarter hour yet. And then I’ll not be. The peacefullest words. Peacefullest words. Non fui. Sum. Fui. Non sum. Somewhere I heard bells once. Mississippi or Massachusetts. I was. I am not. Massachusetts or Mississippi. Shreve has a bottle in his trunk. Aren’t you even going to open it Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce the Three times. Days. Aren’t you even going to open it marriage of their daughter Candace that liquor teaches you to confuse the means with the end. I am. Drink. I was not. Let us sell Benjy’s pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard and I may knock my bones together and together. I will be dead in. Was it one year Caddy said. Shreve has a bottle in his trunk. Sir I will not need Shreve’s I have sold Benjy’s pasture and I can be dead in Harvard Caddy said in the caverns and the grottoes of the sea tumbling peacefully to the wavering tides because Harvard is such a fine sound forty acres is no high price for a fine sound. A fine dead sound we will swap Benjy’s pasture for a fine dead sound. It will last him a long time because he cannot hear it unless he can smell it as soon as she came in the door he began to cry I thought all the time it was just one of those town squirts that Father was always teasing her about until. I didnt notice him any more than any other stranger drummer or what thought they were army shirts until all of a sudden I knew he wasn’t thinking of me at all as a potential source of harm, but was thinking of her when he looked at me was looking at me through her like through a piece of coloured glass why must you meddle with me dont you know it wont do any good I thought you’d have left that for Mother and Jason

did Mother set Jason to spy on you I wouldnt have.

Women only use other people’s codes of honour it’s because she loves Caddy staying downstairs even when she was sick so Father couldnt kid Uncle Maury before Jason Father said Uncle Maury was too poor a classicist to risk the blind immortal boy in person he should have chosen Jason because Jason would have made only the same kind of blunder Uncle Maury himself would have made not one to get him a black eye the Patterson boy was smaller than Jason too they sold the kites for a nickel apiece until the trouble over finances Jason got a new partner still smaller one small enough anyway because T. P. said Jason still treasurer but Father said why should Uncle Maury work if he father could support five or six niggers that did nothing at all but sit with their feet in the oven he certainly could board and lodge Uncle Maury now and then and lend him a little money who kept his Father’s belief in the celestial derivation of his own species at such a fine heat then Mother would cry and say that Father believed his people were better than hers that he was ridiculing Uncle Maury to teach us the same thing she couldnt see that Father was teaching us that all men are just accumulations dolls stuffed with sawdust swept up from the trash heaps where all previous dolls had been thrown away the sawdust flowing from what wound in what side that not for me died not. It used to be I thought of death as a man something like Grandfather a friend of his a kind of private and particular friend like we used to think of Grandfather’s desk not to touch it not even to talk loud in the room where it was I always thought of them as being together somewhere all the time waiting for old Colonel Sartoris to come down and sit with them waiting on a high place beyond cedar trees Colonel Sartoris was on a still higher place looking out across at something and they were waiting for him to get done looking at it and come down Grandfather wore his uniform and we could hear the murmur of their voices from beyond the cedars they were always talking and Grandfather was always right.

The three quarters began. The first note sounded, measured and tranquil, serenely peremptory, emptying the unhurried silence for the next one and that’s it if people could only change one another forever that way merge like a flame swirling up for an instant then blown cleanly out along the cool eternal dark instead of lying there trying not to think of the swing until all cedars came to have that vivid dead smell of perfume that Benjy hated so. Just by imagining the clump it seemed to me that I could hear whispers secret surges smell the beating of hot blood under wild unsecret flesh watching against red eyelids the swine untethered in pairs rushing coupled into the sea and he we must just stay awake and see evil done for a little while its not always and i it doesnt have to be even that long for a man of courage and he do you consider that courage and i yes sir dont you and he every man is the arbiter of his own virtues whether or not you consider it courageous is of more importance than the act itself than any act otherwise you could not be in earnest and i you dont believe i am serious and he i think you are too serious to give me any cause for alarm you wouldnt have felt driven to the expedient of telling me you have committed incest otherwise and i i wasnt lying i wasnt lying and he you wanted to sublimate a piece of natural human folly into a horror and then exorcise it with truth and i it was to isolate her out of the loud world so that it would have to flee us of necessity and then the sound of it would be as though it had never been and he did you try to make her do it and i i was afraid to i was afraid she might and then it wouldnt have done any good but if i could tell you we did it would have been so and then the others wouldnt be so and then the world would roar away and he and now this other you are not lying now either but you are still blind to what is in yourself to that part of general truth the sequence of natural events and their causes which shadows every mans brow even benjys you are not thinking of finitude you are contemplating an apotheosis in which a temporary state of mind will become symmetrical above the flesh and aware both of itself and of the flesh it will not quite discard you will not even be dead and i temporary and he you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this now were getting at it you seem to regard it merely as an experience that will whiten your hair overnight so to speak without altering your appearance at all you wont do it under these conditions it will be a gamble and the strange thing is that man who is conceived by accident and whose every breath is a fresh cast with dice already loaded against him will not face that final main which he knows before hand he has assuredly to face without essaying expedients ranging all the way from violence to petty chicanery that would not deceive a child until someday in very disgust he risks everything on a single blind turn of a card no man ever does that under the first fury of despair or remorse or bereavement he does it only when he has realised that even the despair or remorse or bereavement is not particularly important to the dark diceman and i temporary and he it is hard believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond purchased without design and which matures willynilly and is recalled without warning to be replaced by whatever issue the gods happen to be floating at the time no you will not do that until you come to believe that even she was not quite worth despair perhaps and i i will never do that nobody knows what i know and he i think youd better go on up to Cambridge right away you might go up into maine for a month you can afford it if you are careful it might be a good thing watching pennies has healed more scars than jesus and i suppose i realise what you believe i will realise up there next week or next month and he then you will remember that for you to go to harvard has been your mothers dream since you were born and no compson has ever disappointed a lady and i temporary it will be better for me for all of us and he every man is the arbiter of his own virtues but let no man prescribe for another mans wellbeing and i temporary and he was the saddest word of all there is nothing else in the world its not despair until time its not even time until it was

The last note sounded. At last it stopped vibrating and the darkness was still again. I entered the sitting room and turned on the light. I put my vest on. The gasoline was faint now, barely noticeable, and in the mirror the stain didnt show. Not like my eye did, anyway. I put on my coat. Shreve’s letter crackled through the cloth and I took it out and examined the address, and put it in my side pocket. Then I carried the watch into Shreve’s room and put it in his drawer and went to my room and got a fresh handkerchief and went to the door and put my hand on the light switch. Then I remembered I hadnt brushed my teeth, so I had to open the bag again. I found my toothbrush and got some of Shreve’s paste and went out and brushed my teeth. I squeezed the brush as dry as I could and put it back in the bag and shut it, and went to the door again. Before I snapped the light out I looked around to see if there was anything else, then I saw that I had forgotten my hat. I’d have to go by the postoffice and I’d be sure to meet some of them, and they’d think I was a Harvard Square student making like he was a senior. I had forgotten to brush it too, but Shreve had a brush, so I didnt have to open the bag any more.

APRIL 6, 1928

Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say. I says you’re lucky if her playing out of school is all that worries you. I says she ought to be down there in that kitchen right now, instead of up there in her room, gobbing paint on her face and waiting for six niggers that cant even stand up out of a chair unless they’ve got a pan full of bread and meat to balance them, to fix breakfast for her. And Mother says,

“But to have the school authorities think that I have no control over her, that I cant—”

“Well,” I says, “You cant, can you? You never have tried to do anything with her,” I says, “How do you expect to begin this late, when she’s seventeen years old?”

She thought about that for a while.

“But to have them think that . . . I didn’t even know she had a report card. She told me last fall that they had quit using them this year. And now for Professor Junkin to call me on the telephone and tell me if she’s absent one more time, she will have to leave school. How does she do it? Where does she go? You’re down town all day; you ought to see her if she stays on the streets.”

“Yes,” I says, “If she stayed on the streets. I dont reckon she’d be playing out of school just to do something she could do in public,” I says.

“What do you mean?” she says.

“I dont mean anything,” I says. “I just answered your question.” Then she begun to cry again, talking about how her own flesh and blood rose up to curse her

“You asked me,” I says.

“I don’t mean you,” she says. “You are the only one of them that isn’t a reproach to me.”

“Sure,” I says, “I never had time to be. I never had time to go to Harvard like Quentin or drink myself into the ground like Father. I had to work. But of course if you want me to follow her around and see what she does, I can quit the store and get a job where I can work at night. Then I can watch her during the day and you can use Ben for the night shift.”

“I know I’m just a trouble and a burden to you,” she says, crying on the pillow.

“I ought to know it,” I says. “You’ve been telling me that for thirty years. Even Ben ought to know it now. Do you want me to say anything to her about it?”

“Do you think it will do any good?” she says.

“Not if you come down there interfering just when I get started,” I says. “If you want me to control her, just say so and keep your hands off. Everytime I try to, you come butting in and then she gives both of us the laugh.”

“Remember she’s your own flesh and blood,” she says.

“Sure,” I says, “that’s just what I’m thinking of—flesh. And a little blood too, if I had my way. When people act like niggers, no matter who they are the only thing to do is treat them like a nigger.”

“I’m afraid you’ll lose your temper with her,” she says.

“Well,” I says, “You haven’t had much luck with your system. You want me to do anything about it, or not? Say one way or the other; I’ve got to get on to work.”

“I know you have to slave your life away for us,” she says. “You know if I had my way, you’d have an office of your own to go to, and hours that became a Bascomb. Because you are a Bascomb, despite your name. I know that if your father could have foreseen—”

“Well,” I says, “I reckon he’s entitled to guess wrong now and then, like anybody else, even a Smith or a Jones.” She began to cry again.

“To hear you speak bitterly of your dead father,” she says.

“All right,” I says, “all right. Have it your way. But as I haven’t got an office, I’ll have to get on to what I have got. Do you want me to say anything to her?”

“I’m afraid you’ll lose your temper with her,” she says.

“All right,” I says, “I wont say anything, then.”

“But something must be done,” she says. “To have people think I permit her to stay out of school and run about the streets, or that I cant prevent her doing it. . . . Jason, Jason,” she says, “How could you. How could you leave me with these burdens.”

“Now, now,” I says, “You’ll make yourself sick. Why dont you either lock her up all day too, or turn her over to me and quit worrying over her?”

“My own flesh and blood,” she says, crying. So I says,

“All right. I’ll tend to her. Quit crying, now.”

“Dont lose your temper,” she says. “She’s just a child, remember.”

“No,” I says, “I wont.” I went out, closing the door.

“Jason,” she says. I didn’t answer. I went down the hall. “Jason,” she says beyond the door. I went on down stairs. There wasnt anybody in the diningroom, then I heard her in the kitchen. She was trying to make Dilsey let her have another cup of coffee. I went in.

“I reckon that’s your school costume, is it?” I says. “Or maybe today’s a holiday?”

“Just a half a cup, Dilsey,” she says. “Please.”

“No, suh,” Dilsey says, “I aint gwine do it. You aint got no business wid mo’n one cup, a seventeen year old gal, let lone whut Miss Cahline say. You go on and git dressed for school, so you kin ride to town wid Jason. You fixin to be late again.”

“No she’s not,” I says. “We’re going to fix that right now.” She looked at me, the cup in her hand. She brushed her hair back from her face, her kimono slipping off her shoulder. “You put that cup down and come in here a minute,” I says.

“What for?” she says.

“Come on,” I says. “Put that cup in the sink and come in here.”

“What you up to now, Jason?” Dilsey says.

“You may think you can run over me like you do your grandmother and everybody else,” I says, “But you’ll find out different. I’ll give you ten seconds to put that cup down like I told you.”

She quit looking at me. She looked at Dilsey. “What time is it, Dilsey?” she says. “When it’s ten seconds, you whistle. Just a half a cup. Dilsey, pl—”

I grabbed her by the arm. She dropped the cup. It broke on the floor and she jerked back, looking at me, but I held her arm. Dilsey got up from her chair.

“You, Jason,” she says.

“You turn me loose,” Quentin says, “I’ll slap you.”

“You will, will you?” I says, “You will will you?” She slapped at me. I caught that hand too and held her like a wildcat. “You will, will you?” I says. “You think you will?”

“You, Jason!” Dilsey says. I dragged her into the diningroom. Her kimono came unfastened, flapping about her; damn near naked. Dilsey came hobbling along. I turned and kicked the door shut in her face.

“You keep out of here,” I says.

Quentin was leaning against the table, fastening her kimono. I looked at her.

“Now,” I says, “I want to know what you mean, playing out of school and telling your grandmother lies and forging her name on your report and worrying her sick. What do you mean by it?”

She didn’t say anything. She was fastening her kimono up under her chin, pulling it tight around her, looking at me. She hadn’t got around to painting herself yet and her face looked like she had polished it with a gun rag. I went and grabbed her wrist. “What do you mean?” I says.

“None of your damn business,” she says. “You turn me loose.”

Dilsey came in the door. “You, Jason,” she says.

“You get out of here, like I told you,” I says, not even looking back. “I want to know where you go when you play out of school,” I says. “You keep off the streets, or I’d see you. Who do you play out with? Are you hiding out in the woods with one of those damn slick-headed jellybeans? Is that where you go?”

“You—you old goddamn!” she says. She fought, but I held her. “You damn old goddamn!” she says.

“I’ll show you,” I says. “You may can scare an old woman off, but I’ll show you who’s got hold of you now.” I held her with one hand, then she quit fighting and watched me, her eyes getting wide and black.

“What are you going to do?” she says.

“You wait until I get this belt out and I’ll show you,” I says, pulling my belt out. Then Dilsey grabbed my arm.

“Jason,” she says, “You, Jason! Aint you shamed of yourself.”

“Dilsey,” Quentin says, “Dilsey.”

“I aint gwine let him,” Dilsey says, “Dont you worry, honey.” She held to my arm. Then the belt came out and I jerked loose and flung her away. She stumbled into the table. She was so old she couldn’t do any more than move hardly. But that’s all right: we need somebody in the kitchen to eat up the grub the young ones cant tote off. She came hobbling between us, trying to hold me again. “Hit me, den,” she says, “ef nothin else but hittin somebody wont do you. Hit me,” she says.

“You think I wont?” I says.

“I dont put no devilment beyond you,” she says. Then I heard Mother on the stairs. I might have known she wasn’t going to keep out of it. I let go. She stumbled back against the wall, holding her kimono shut.

“All right,” I says, “We’ll just put this off a while. But dont think you can run it over me. I’m not an old woman, nor an old half dead nigger, either. You damn little slut,” I says.

“Dilsey,” she says, “Dilsey, I want my mother.”

Dilsey went to her. “Now, now,” she says, “He aint gwine so much as lay his hand on you while Ise here.” Mother came on down the stairs.

“Jason,” she says, “Dilsey.”

“Now, now,” Dilsey says, “I aint gwine let him tech you.” She put her hand on Quentin. She knocked it down.

“You damn old nigger,” she says. She ran toward the door.

“Dilsey,” Mother says on the stairs. Quentin ran up the stairs, passing her. “Quentin,” Mother says, “You, Quentin.” Quentin ran on. I could hear her when she reached the top, then in the hall. Then the door slammed.

Mother had stopped. Then she came on. “Dilsey,” she says.

“All right,” Dilsey says, “Ise comin. You go on and git dat car and wait now,” she says, “so you kin cahy her to school.”

“Dont you worry,” I says. “I’ll take her to school and I’m going to see that she stays there. I’ve started this thing, and I’m going through with it.”

“Jason,” Mother says on the stairs.

“Go on, now,” Dilsey says, going toward the door. “You want to git her started too? Ise comin, Miss Cahline.”

I went on out. I could hear them on the steps. “You go on back to bed now,” Dilsey was saying, “Don’t you know you aint feeling well enough to git up yet? Go on back, now. I’m gwine to see she gits to school in time.”

I went on out the back to back the car out, then I had to go all the way round to the front before I found them.

“I thought I told you to put that tire on the back of the car,” I says.

“I aint had time,” Luster says. “Aint nobody to watch him till mammy git done in de kitchen.”

“Yes,” I says, “I feed a whole damn kitchen full of niggers to follow around after him, but if I want an automobile tire changed, I have to do it myself.”

“I aint had nobody to leave him wid,” he says. Then he begun moaning and slobbering.

“Take him on round to the back,” I says. “What the hell makes you want to keep him around here where people can see him?” I made them go on, before he got started bellowing good. It’s bad enough on Sundays, with that damn field full of people that haven’t got a side show and six niggers to feed, knocking a damn oversize mothball around. He’s going to keep on running up and down that fence and bellowing every time they come in sight until first thing I know they’re going to begin charging me golf dues, then Mother and Dilsey’ll have to get a couple of china door knobs and a walking stick and work it out, unless I play at night with a lantern. Then they’d send us all to Jackson, maybe. God knows, they’d hold Old Home week when that happened.

I went on back to the garage. There was the tire, leaning against the wall, but be damned if I was going to put it on. I backed out and turned around. She was standing by the drive. I says,

“I know you haven’t got any books: I just want to ask you what you did with them, if it’s any of my business. Of course I haven’t got any right to ask,” I says, “I’m just the one that paid $11.65 for them last September.”

“Mother buys my books,” she says. “There’s not a cent of your money on me. I’d starve first.”

“Yes?” I says. “You tell your grandmother that and see what she says. You dont look all the way naked,” I says, “even if that stuff on your face does hide more of you than anything else you’ve got on.”

“Do you think your money or hers either paid for a cent of this?” she says.

“Ask your grandmother,” I says. “Ask her what became of those checks. You saw her burn one of them, as I remember.” She wasn’t even listening, with her face all gummed up with paint and her eyes hard as a fice dog’s.

“Do you know what I’d do if I thought your money or hers either bought one cent of this?” she says, putting her hand on her dress.

“What would you do?” I says, “Wear a barrel?”

“I’d tear it right off and throw it into the street,” she says. “Dont you believe me?”

“Sure you would,” I says. “You do it every time.”

“See if I wouldn’t,” she says. She grabbed the neck of her dress in both hands and made like she would tear it.

“You tear that dress,” I says, “and I’ll give you a whipping right here that you’ll remember all your life.”

“See if I dont,” she says. Then I saw that she really was trying to tear it, to tear it right off of her. By the time I got the car stopped and grabbed her hands there was about a dozen people looking. It made me so mad for a minute it kind of blinded me.

“You do a thing like that again and I’ll make you sorry you ever drew breath,” I says.

“I’m sorry now,” she says. She quit, then her eyes turned kind of funny and I says to myself if you cry here in this car, on the street, I’ll whip you. I’ll wear you out. Lucky for her she didn’t, so I turned her wrists loose and drove on. Luckily we were near an alley, where I could turn into the back street and dodge the square. They were already putting the tent up in Beard’s lot. Earl had already given me the two passes for our show windows. She sat there with her face turned away, chewing her lip. “I’m sorry now,” she says. “I dont see why I was ever born.”

“And I know of at least one other person that dont understand all he knows about that,” I says. I stopped in front of the school house. The bell had rung, and the last of them were just going in. “You’re on time for once, anyway,” I says. “Are you going in there and stay there, or am I coming with you and make you?” She got out and banged the door. “Remember what I say,” I says, “I mean it. Let me hear one more time that you are slipping up and down back alleys with one of those damn squirts.”

She turned back at that. “I dont slip around,” she says. “I dare anybody to know everything I do.”

“And they all know it, too,” I says. “Everybody in this town knows what you are. But I wont have it anymore, you hear? I dont care what you do, myself,” I says, “But I’ve got a position in this town, and I’m not going to have any member of my family going on like a nigger wench. You hear me?”

“I dont care,” she says, “I’m bad and I’m going to hell, and I dont care. I’d rather be in hell than anywhere where you are.”

“If I hear one more time that you haven’t been to school, you’ll wish you were in hell,” I says. She turned and ran on across the yard. “One more time, remember,” I says. She didn’t look back.

I went to the postoffice and got the mail and drove on to the store and parked. Earl looked at me when I came in. I gave him a chance to say something about my being late, but he just said,

“Those cultivators have come. You’d better help Uncle Job put them up.”

I went on to the back, where old Job was uncrating them, at the rate of about three bolts to the hour.

“You ought to be working for me,” I says. “Every other no-count nigger in town eats in my kitchen.”

“I works to suit de man whut pays me Sat’dy night,” he says. “When I does dat, it dont leave me a whole lot of time to please other folks.” He screwed up a nut. “Aint nobody works much in dis country cep de boll-weevil, noways,” he says.

“You’d better be glad you’re not a boll-weevil waiting on those cultivators,” I says. “You’d work yourself to death before they’d be ready to prevent you.”

“Dat’s de troof,” he says, “Boll-weevil got tough time. Work ev’y day in de week out in de hot sun, rain er shine. Aint got no front porch to set on en watch de wattermilyuns growin and Sat’dy dont mean nothin a-tall to him.”

“Saturday wouldn’t mean nothing to you, either,” I says, “if it depended on me to pay you wages. Get those things out of the crates now and drag them inside.”

I opened her letter first and took the check out. Just like a woman. Six days late. Yet they try to make men believe that they’re capable of conducting a business. How long would a man that thought the first of the month came on the sixth last in business. And like as not, when they sent the bank statement out, she would want to know why I never deposited my salary until the sixth. Things like that never occur to a woman.

“I had no answer to my letter about Quentin’s easter dress. Did it arrive all right? I’ve had no answer to the last two letters I wrote her, though the check in the second one was cashed with the other check. Is she sick? Let me know at once or I’ll come there and see for myself. You promised you would let me know when she needed things. I will expect to hear from you before the 10th. No you’d better wire me at once. You are opening my letters to her. I know that as well as if I were looking at you. You’d better wire me at once about her to this address.”

About that time Earl started yelling at Job, so I put them away and went over to try to put some life into him. What this country needs is white labour. Let these damn trifling niggers starve for a couple of years, then they’d see what a soft thing they have.

Along toward ten oclock I went up front. There was a drummer there. It was a couple of minutes to ten, and I invited him up the street to get a coca-cola. We got to talking about crops.

“There’s nothing to it,” I says, “Cotton is a speculator’s crop. They fill the farmer full of hot air and get him to raise a big crop for them to whipsaw on the market, to trim the suckers with. Do you think the farmer gets anything out of it except a red neck and a hump in his back? You think the man that sweats to put it into the ground gets a red cent more than a bare living,” I says. “Let him make a big crop and it wont be worth picking; let him make a small crop and he wont have enough to gin. And what for? so a bunch of damn eastern jews, I’m not talking about men of the jewish religion,” I says, “I’ve known some jews that were fine citizens. You might be one yourself,” I says.

“No,” he says, “I’m an American.”

“No offense,” I says. “I give every man his due, regardless of religion or anything else. I have nothing against jews as an individual,” I says. “It’s just the race. You’ll admit that they produce nothing. They follow the pioneers into a new country and sell them clothes.”

“You’re thinking of Armenians,” he says, “aren’t you. A pioneer wouldn’t have any use for new clothes.”

“No offense,” I says. “I dont hold a man’s religion against him.”

“Sure,” he says, “I’m an American. My folks have some French blood, why I have a nose like this. I’m an American, all right.”

“So am I,” I says. “Not many of us left. What I’m talking about is the fellows that sit up there in New York and trim the sucker gamblers.”

“That’s right,” he says. “Nothing to gambling, for a poor man. There ought to be a law against it.”

“Don’t you think I’m right?” I says.

“Yes,” he says, “I guess you’re right. The farmer catches it coming and going.”

“I know I’m right,” I says. “It’s a sucker game, unless a man gets inside information from somebody that knows what’s going on. I happen to be associated with some people who’re right there on the ground. They have one of the biggest manipulators in New York for an adviser. Way I do it,” I says, “I never risk much at a time. It’s the fellow that thinks he knows it all and is trying to make a killing with three dollars that they’re laying for. That’s why they are in the business.”

Then it struck ten. I went up to the telegraph office. It opened up a little, just like they said. I went into the corner and took out the telegram again, just to be sure. While I was looking at it a report came in. It was up two points. They were all buying. I could tell that from what they were saying. Getting aboard. Like they didn’t know it could go but one way. Like there was a law or something against doing anything but buying. Well, I reckon those eastern jews have got to live too. But I’ll be damned if it hasn’t come to a pretty pass when any damn foreigner that cant make a living in the country where God put him, can come to this one and take money right out of an American’s pockets. It was up two points more. Four points. But hell, they were right there and knew what was going on. And if I wasn’t going to take the advice, what was I paying them ten dollars a month for. I went out, then I remembered and came back and sent the wire. “All well. Q writing today.”

“Q?” the operator says.

“Yes,” I says, “Q. Cant you spell Q?”

“I just asked to be sure,” he says.

“You send it like I wrote it and I’ll guarantee you to be sure,” I says. “Send it collect.”

“What you sending, Jason?” Doc Wright says, looking over my shoulder. “Is that a code message to buy?”

“That’s all right about that,” I says. “You boys use your own judgment. You know more about it than those New York folks do.”

“Well, I ought to,” Doc says, “I’d a saved money this year raising it at two cents a pound.”

Another report came in. It was down a point.

“Jason’s selling,” Hopkins says. “Look at his face.”

“That’s all right about what I’m doing,” I says. “You boys follow your own judgment. Those rich New York jews have got to live like everybody else,” I says.

I went on back to the store. Earl was busy up front. I went on back to the desk and read Lorraine’s letter. “Dear daddy wish you were here. No good parties when daddys out of town I miss my sweet daddy.” I reckon she does. Last time I gave her forty dollars. Gave it to her. I never promise a woman anything nor let her know what I’m going to give her. That’s the only way to manage them. Always keep them guessing. If you cant think of any other way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw.

I tore it up and burned it over the spittoon. I make it a rule never to keep a scrap of paper bearing a woman’s hand, and I never write them at all. Lorraine is always after me to write to her but I says anything I forgot to tell you will save till I get to Memphis again but I says I dont mind you writing me now and then in a plain envelope, but if you ever try to call me up on the telephone, Memphis wont hold you I says. I says when I’m up there I’m one of the boys, but I’m not going to have any woman calling me on the telephone. Here I says, giving her the forty dollars. If you ever get drunk and take a notion to call me on the phone, just remember this and count ten before you do it.

“When’ll that be?” she says.

“What?” I says.

“When you’re coming back,” she says.

“I’ll let you know,” I says. Then she tried to buy a beer, but I wouldn’t let her. “Keep your money,” I says. “Buy yourself a dress with it.” I gave the maid a five, too. After all, like I say money has no value; it’s just the way you spend it. It dont belong to anybody, so why try to hoard it. It just belongs to the man that can get it and keep it. There’s a man right here in Jefferson made a lot of money selling rotten goods to niggers, lived in a room over the store about the size of a pigpen, and did his own cooking. About four or five years ago he was taken sick. Scared the hell out of him so that when he was up again he joined the church and bought himself a Chinese missionary, five thousand dollars a year. I often think how mad he’ll be if he was to die and find out there’s not any heaven, when he thinks about that five thousand a year. Like I say, he’d better go on and die now and save money.

When it was burned good I was just about to shove the others into my coat when all of a sudden something told me to open Quentin’s before I went home, but about that time Earl started yelling for me up front, so I put them away and went and waited on the damn redneck while he spent fifteen minutes deciding whether he wanted a twenty cent hame string or a thirty-five cent one.

“You’d better take that good one,” I says. “How do you fellows ever expect to get ahead, trying to work with cheap equipment?”

“If this one aint any good,” he says, “why have you got it on sale?”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t any good,” I says, “I said it’s not as good as that other one.”

“How do you know it’s not,” he says. “You ever use airy one of them?”

“Because they dont ask thirty-five cents for it,” I says. “That’s how I know it’s not as good.”

He held the twenty cent one in his hands, drawing it through his fingers. “I reckon I’ll take this hyer one,” he says. I offered to take it and wrap it, but he rolled it up and put it in his overalls. Then he took out a tobacco sack and finally got it untied and shook some coins out. He handed me a quarter. “That fifteen cents will buy me a snack of dinner,” he says.

“All right,” I says, “You’re the doctor. But dont come complaining to me next year when you have to buy a new outfit.”

“I aint makin next year’s crop yit,” he says. Finally I got rid of him, but every time I took that letter out something would come up. They were all in town for the show, coming in in droves to give their money to something that brought nothing to the town and wouldn’t leave anything except what those grafters in the Mayor’s office will split among themselves, and Earl chasing back and forth like a hen in a coop, saying “Yes, ma’am, Mr Compson will wait on you. Jason, show this lady a churn or a nickel’s worth of screen hooks.”

Well, Jason likes work. I says no I never had university advantages because at Harvard they teach you how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to swim and at Sewanee they dont even teach you what water is. I says you might send me to the state University; maybe I’ll learn how to stop my clock with a nose spray and then you can send Ben to the Navy I says or to the cavalry anyway, they use geldings in the cavalry. Then when she sent Quentin home for me to feed too I says I guess that’s right too, instead of me having to go way up north for a job they sent the job down here to me and then Mother begun to cry and I says it’s not that I have any objection to having it here; if it’s any satisfaction to you I’ll quit work and nurse it myself and let you and Dilsey keep the flour barrel full, or Ben. Rent him out to a sideshow; there must be folks somewhere that would pay a dime to see him, then she cried more and kept saying my poor afflicted baby and I says yes he’ll be quite a help to you when he gets his growth not being more than one and a half times as high as me now and she says she’d be dead soon and then we’d all be better off and so I says all right, all right, have it your way. It’s your grandchild, which is more than any other grandparents it’s got can say for certain. Only I says it’s only a question of time. If you believe she’ll do what she says and not try to see it, you fool yourself because the first time that was that Mother kept on saying thank God you are not a Compson except in name, because you are all I have left now, you and Maury, and I says well I could spare Uncle Maury myself and then they came and said they were ready to start. Mother stopped crying then. She pulled her veil down and we went down stairs. Uncle Maury was coming out of the diningroom, his handkerchief to his mouth. They kind of made a lane and we went out the door just in time to see Dilsey driving Ben and T. P. back around the corner. We went down the steps and got in. Uncle Maury kept saying Poor little sister, poor little sister, talking around his mouth and patting Mother’s hand. Talking around whatever it was.

“Have you got your band on?” she says. “Why dont they go on, before Benjamin comes out and makes a spectacle. Poor little boy. He doesn’t know. He cant even realise.”

“There, there,” Uncle Maury says, patting her hand, talking around his mouth. “It’s better so. Let him be unaware of bereavement until he has to.”

“Other women have their children to support them in times like this,” Mother says.

“You have Jason and me,” he says.

“It’s so terrible to me,” she says, “Having the two of them like this, in less than two years.”

“There, there,” he says. After a while he kind of sneaked his hand to his mouth and dropped them out the window. Then I knew what I had been smelling. Clove stems. I reckon he thought that the least he could do at Father’s funeral or maybe the sideboard thought it was still Father and tripped him up when he passed. Like I say, if he had to sell something to send Quentin to Harvard we’d all been a damn sight better off if he’d sold that sideboard and bought himself a one-armed strait jacket with part of the money. I reckon the reason all the Compson gave out before it got to me like Mother says, is that he drank it up. At least I never heard of him offering to sell anything to send me to Harvard.

So he kept on patting her hand and saying “Poor little sister,” patting her hand with one of the black gloves that we got the bill for four days later because it was the twenty-sixth because it was the same day one month that Father went up there and got it and brought it home and wouldn’t tell anything about where she was or anything and Mother crying and saying “And you didn’t even see him? You didn’t even try to get him to make any provision for it?” and Father says “No she shall not touch his money not one cent of it” and Mother says “He can be forced to by law. He can prove nothing, unless—Jason Compson,” she says, “Were you fool enough to tell—”

“Hush, Caroline,” Father says, then he sent me to help Dilsey get that old cradle out of the attic and I says,

“Well, they brought my job home tonight” because all the time we kept hoping they’d get things straightened out and he’d keep her because Mother kept saying she would at least have enough regard for the family not to jeopardize my chance after she and Quentin had had theirs.

“And whar else do she belong?” Dilsey says, “Who else gwine raise her ’cep me? Aint I raised eve’y one of y’all?”

“And a damn fine job you made of it,” I says. “Anyway it’ll give her something to sure enough worry over now.” So we carried the cradle down and Dilsey started to set it up in her old room. Then Mother started sure enough.

“Hush, Miss Cahline,” Dilsey says, “You gwine wake her up.”

“In there?” Mother says, “To be contaminated by that atmosphere? It’ll be hard enough as it is, with the heritage she already has.”

“Hush,” Father says, “Dont be silly.”

“Why aint she gwine sleep in here,” Dilsey says, “In the same room whar I put her ma to bed ev’y night of her life since she was big enough to sleep by herself.”

“You dont know,” Mother says, “To have my own daughter cast off by her husband. Poor little innocent baby,” she says, looking at Quentin. “You will never know the suffering you’ve caused.”

“Hush, Caroline,” Father says.

“What you want to go on like that fo Jason fer?” Dilsey says.

“I’ve tried to protect him,” Mother says. “I’ve always tried to protect him from it. At least I can do my best to shield her.”

“How sleepin in dis room gwine hurt her, I like to know,” Dilsey says.

“I cant help it,” Mother says. “I know I’m just a troublesome old woman. But I know that people cannot flout God’s laws with impunity.”

“Nonsense,” Father said. “Fix it in Miss Caroline’s room then, Dilsey.”

“You can say nonsense,” Mother says. “But she must never know. She must never even learn that name. Dilsey, I forbid you ever to speak that name in her hearing. If she could grow up never to know that she had a mother, I would thank God.”

“Dont be a fool,” Father says.

“I have never interfered with the way you brought them up,” Mother says, “But now I cannot stand anymore. We must decide this now, tonight. Either that name is never to be spoken in her hearing, or she must go, or I will go. Take your choice.”

“Hush,” Father says, “You’re just upset. Fix it in here, Dilsey.”

“En you’s about sick too,” Dilsey says. “You looks like a hant. You git in bed and I’ll fix you a toddy and see kin you sleep. I bet you aint had a full night’s sleep since you lef.”

“No,” Mother says, “Dont you know what the doctor says? Why must you encourage him to drink? That’s what’s the matter with him now. Look at me, I suffer too, but I’m not so weak that I must kill myself with whiskey.”

“Fiddlesticks,” Father says, “What do doctors know? They make their livings advising people to do whatever they are not doing at the time, which is the extent of anyone’s knowledge of the degenerate ape. You’ll have a minister in to hold my hand next.” Then Mother cried, and he went out. Went down stairs, and then I heard the sideboard. I woke up and heard him going down again. Mother had gone to sleep or something, because the house was quiet at last. He was trying to be quiet too, because I couldn’t hear him, only the bottom of his nightshirt and his bare legs in front of the sideboard.

Dilsey fixed the cradle and undressed her and put her in it. She never had waked up since he brought her in the house.

“She pretty near too big fer hit,” Dilsey says. “Dar now. I gwine spread me a pallet right acrost de hall, so you wont need to git up in de night.”

“I wont sleep,” Mother says. “You go on home. I wont mind. I’ll be happy to give the rest of my life to her, if I can just prevent—”

“Hush, now,” Dilsey says. “We gwine take keer of her. En you go on to bed too,” she says to me, “You got to go to school tomorrow.”

So I went out, then Mother called me back and cried on me awhile.

“You are my only hope,” she says. “Every night I thank God for you.” While we were waiting there for them to start she says Thank God if he had to be taken too, it is you left me and not Quentin. Thank God you are not a Compson, because all I have left now is you and Maury and I says, Well I could spare Uncle Maury myself. Well, he kept on patting her hand with his black glove, talking away from her. He took them off when his turn with the shovel came. He got up near the first, where they were holding the umbrellas over them, stamping every now and then and trying to kick the mud off their feet and sticking to the shovels so they’d have to knock it off, making a hollow sound when it fell on it, and when I stepped back around the hack I could see him behind a tombstone, taking another one out of a bottle. I thought he never was going to stop because I had on my new suit too, but it happened that there wasn’t much mud on the wheels yet, only Mother saw it and says I dont know when you’ll ever have another one and Uncle Maury says, “Now, now. Dont you worry at all. You have me to depend on, always.”

And we have. Always. The fourth letter was from him but there wasn’t any need to open it. I could have written it myself, or recited it to her from memory, adding ten dollars just to be safe. But I had a hunch about that other letter. I just felt that it was about time she was up to some of her tricks again. She got pretty wise after that first time. She found out pretty quick that I was a different breed of cat from Father. When they begun to get it filled up toward the top Mother started crying sure enough, so Uncle Maury got in with her and drove off. He says You can come in with somebody; they’ll be glad to give you a lift. I’ll have to take your mother on and I thought about saying, Yes you ought to brought two bottles instead of just one only I thought about where we were, so I let them go on. Little they cared how wet I got, because then Mother could have a whale of a time being afraid I was taking pneumonia.

Well, I got to thinking about that and watching them throwing dirt into it, slapping it on anyway like they were making mortar or something or building a fence, and I began to feel sort of funny and so I decided to walk around a while. I thought that if I went toward town they’d catch up and be trying to make me get in one of them, so I went on back toward the nigger graveyard. I got under some cedars, where the rain didn’t come much, only dripping now and then, where I could see when they got through and went away. After a while they were all gone and I waited a minute and came out.

I had to follow the path to keep out of the wet grass so I didn’t see her until I was pretty near there, standing there in a black cloak, looking at the flowers. I knew who it was right off, before she turned and looked at me and lifted up her veil.

“Hello, Jason,” she says, holding out her hand. We shook hands.

“What are you doing here?” I says. “I thought you promised her you wouldn’t come back here. I thought you had more sense than that.”

“Yes?” she says. She looked at the flowers again. There must have been fifty dollars’ worth. Somebody had put one bunch on Quentin’s. “You did?” she says.

“I’m not surprised though,” I says. “I wouldn’t put anything past you. You dont mind anybody. You dont give a damn about anybody.”

“Oh,” she says, “that job.” She looked at the grave. “I’m sorry about that, Jason.”

“I bet you are,” I says. “You’ll talk mighty meek now. But you needn’t have come back. There’s not anything left. Ask Uncle Maury, if you dont believe me.”

“I dont want anything,” she says. She looked at the grave. “Why didn’t they let me know?” she says. “I just happened to see it in the paper. On the back page. Just happened to.”

I didn’t say anything. We stood there, looking at the grave, and then I got to thinking about when we were little and one thing and another and I got to feeling funny again, kind of mad or something, thinking about now we’d have Uncle Maury around the house all the time, running things like the way he left me to come home in the rain by myself. I says,

“A fine lot you care, sneaking in here soon as he’s dead. But it wont do you any good. Dont think that you can take advantage of this to come sneaking back. If you cant stay on the horse you’ve got, you’ll have to walk,” I says. “We dont even know your name at that house,” I says. “Do you know that? We don’t even know you with him and Quentin,” I says. “Do you know that?”

“I know it,” she says. “Jason,” she says, looking at the grave, “if you’ll fix it so I can see her a minute I’ll give you fifty dollars.”

“You haven’t got fifty dollars,” I says.

“Will you?” she says, not looking at me.

“Let’s see it,” I says. “I dont believe you’ve got fifty dollars.”

I could see where her hands were moving under her cloak, then she held her hand out. Damn if it wasn’t full of money. I could see two or three yellow ones.

“Does he still give you money?” I says. “How much does he send you?”

“I’ll give you a hundred,” she says. “Will you?”

“Just a minute,” I says, “And just like I say. I wouldn’t have her know it for a thousand dollars.”

“Yes,” she says. “Just like you say do it. Just so I see her a minute. I wont beg or do anything. I’ll go right on away.”

“Give me the money,” I says.

“I’ll give it to you afterward,” she says.

“Dont you trust me?” I says.

“No,” she says. “I know you. I grew up with you.”

“You’re a fine one to talk about trusting people,” I says. “Well,” I says, “I got to get on out of the rain. Goodbye.” I made to go away.

“Jason,” she says. I stopped.

“Yes?” I says. “Hurry up. I’m getting wet.”

“All right,” she says. “Here.” There wasn’t anybody in sight. I went back and took the money. She still held to it. “You’ll do it?” she says, looking at me from under the veil, “You promise?”

“Let go,” I says, “You want somebody to come along and see us?”

She let go. I put the money in my pocket. “You’ll do it, Jason?” she says. “I wouldn’t ask you, if there was any other way.”

“You’re damn right there’s no other way,” I says. “Sure I’ll do it. I said I would, didn’t I? Only you’ll have to do just like I say, now.”

“Yes,” she says, “I will.” So I told her where to be, and went to the livery stable. I hurried and got there just as they were unhitching the hack. I asked if they had paid for it yet and he said No and I said Mrs Compson forgot something and wanted it again, so they let me take it. Mink was driving. I bought him a cigar, so we drove around until it begun to get dark on the back streets where they wouldn’t see him. Then Mink said he’d have to take the team on back and so I said I’d buy him another cigar and so we drove into the lane and I went across the yard to the house. I stopped in the hall until I could hear Mother and Uncle Maury upstairs, then I went on back to the kitchen. She and Ben were there with Dilsey. I said Mother wanted her and I took her into the house. I found Uncle Maury’s raincoat and put it around her and picked her up and went back to the lane and got in the hack. I told Mink to drive to the depot. He was afraid to pass the stable, so we had to go the back way and I saw her standing on the corner under the light and I told Mink to drive close to the walk and when I said Go on, to give the team a bat. Then I took the raincoat off of her and held her to the window and Caddy saw her and sort of jumped forward.

“Hit ’em, Mink!” I says, and Mink gave them a cut and we went past her like a fire engine. “Now get on that train like you promised,” I says. I could see her running after us through the back window. “Hit ’em again,” I says, “Let’s get on home.” When we turned the corner she was still running.

And so I counted the money again that night and put it away, and I didn’t feel so bad. I says I reckon that’ll show you. I reckon you’ll know now that you cant beat me out of a job and get away with it. It never occurred to me she wouldn’t keep her promise and take that train. But I didn’t know much about them then; I didn’t have any more sense than to believe what they said, because the next morning damn if she didn’t walk right into the store, only she had sense enough to wear the veil and not speak to anybody. It was Saturday morning, because I was at the store, and she came right on back to the desk where I was, walking fast.

“Liar,” she says, “Liar.”

“Are you crazy?” I says. “What do you mean? coming in here like this?” She started in, but I shut her off. I says, “You already cost me one job; do you want me to lose this one too? If you’ve got anything to say to me, I’ll meet you somewhere after dark. What have you got to say to me?” I says, “Didn’t I do everything I said? I said see her a minute, didn’t I? Well, didn’t you?” She just stood there looking at me, shaking like an ague-fit, her hands clenched and kind of jerking. “I did just what I said I would,” I says, “You’re the one that lied. You promised to take that train. Didn’t you Didn’t you promise? If you think you can get that money back, just try it,” I says. “If it’d been a thousand dollars, you’d still owe me after the risk I took. And if I see or hear you’re still in town after number 17 runs,” I says, “I’ll tell Mother and Uncle Maury. Then hold your breath until you see her again.” She just stood there, looking at me, twisting her hands together.

“Damn you,” she says, “Damn you.”

“Sure,” I says, “That’s all right too. Mind what I say, now. After number 17, and I tell them.”

After she was gone I felt better. I says I reckon you’ll think twice before you deprive me of a job that was promised me. I was a kid then. I believed folks when they said they’d do things. I’ve learned better since. Besides, like I say I guess I dont need any man’s help to get along I can stand on my own feet like I always have. Then all of a sudden I thought of Dilsey and Uncle Maury. I thought how she’d get around Dilsey and that Uncle Maury would do anything for ten dollars. And there I was, couldn’t even get away from the store to protect my own Mother. Like she says, if one of you had to be taken, thank God it was you left me I can depend on you and I says well I dont reckon I’ll ever get far enough from the store to get out of your reach. Somebody’s got to hold on to what little we have left, I reckon.

So as soon as I got home I fixed Dilsey. I told Dilsey she had leprosy and I got the bible and read where a man’s flesh rotted off and I told her that if she ever looked at her or Ben or Quentin they’d catch it too. So I thought I had everything all fixed until that day when I came home and found Ben bellowing. Raising hell and nobody could quiet him. Mother said, Well, get him the slipper then. Dilsey made out she didn’t hear. Mother said it again and I says I’d go I couldn’t stand that damn noise. Like I say I can stand lots of things I dont expect much from them but if I have to work all day long in a damn store damn if I dont think I deserve a little peace and quiet to eat dinner in. So I says I’d go and Dilsey says quick, “Jason!”

Well, like a flash I knew what was up, but just to make sure I went and got the slipper and brought it back, and just like I thought, when he saw it you’d thought we were killing him. So I made Dilsey own up, then I told Mother. We had to take her up to bed then, and after things got quieted down a little I put the fear of God into Dilsey. As much as you can into a nigger, that is. That’s the trouble with nigger servants, when they’ve been with you for a long time they get so full of self importance that they’re not worth a damn. Think they run the whole family.

“I like to know whut’s de hurt in lettin dat po chile see her own baby,” Dilsey says. “If Mr Jason was still here hit ud be different.”

“Only Mr Jason’s not here,” I says. “I know you wont pay me any mind, but I reckon you’ll do what Mother says. You keep on worrying her like this until you get her into the graveyard too, then you can fill the whole house full of ragtag and bobtail. But what did you want to let that damn idiot see her for?”

“You’s a cold man, Jason, if man you is,” she says. “I thank de Lawd I got mo heart dan dat, even ef hit is black.”

“At least I’m man enough to keep that flour barrel full,” I says. “And if you do that again, you wont be eating out of it either.”

So the next time I told her that if she tried Dilsey again, Mother was going to fire Dilsey and send Ben to Jackson and take Quentin and go away. She looked at me for a while. There wasn’t any street light close and I couldn’t see her face much. But I could feel her looking at me. When we were little when she’d get mad and couldn’t do anything about it her upper lip would begin to jump. Everytime it jumped it would leave a little more of her teeth showing, and all the time she’d be as still as a post, not a muscle moving except her lip jerking higher and higher up her teeth. But she didn’t say anything. She just said,

“All right. How much?”

“Well, if one look through a hack window was worth a hundred,” I says. So after that she behaved pretty well, only one time she asked to see a statement of the bank account.

“I know they have Mother’s indorsement on them,” she says, “But I want to see the bank statement. I want to see myself where those checks go.”

“That’s in Mother’s private business,” I says. “If you think you have any right to pry into her private affairs I’ll tell her you believe those checks are being misappropriated and you want an audit because you dont trust her.”

She didn’t say anything or move. I could hear her whispering Damn you oh damn you oh damn you.

“Say it out,” I says, “I dont reckon it’s any secret what you and I think of one another. Maybe you want the money back,” I says.

“Listen, Jason,” she says, “Dont lie to me now. About her. I wont ask to see anything. If that isn’t enough, I’ll send more each month. Just promise that she’ll—that she—You can do that. Things for her. Be kind to her. Little things that I cant, they wont let. . . . But you wont. You never had a drop of warm blood in you. Listen,” she says, “If you’ll get Mother to let me have her back, I’ll give you a thousand dollars.”

“You haven’t got a thousand dollars,” I says, “I know you’re lying now.”

“Yes I have. I will have. I can get it.”

“And I know how you’ll get it,” I says, “You’ll get it the same way you got her. And when she gets big enough—” Then I thought she really was going to hit at me, and then I didn’t know what she was going to do. She acted for a minute like some kind of a toy that’s wound up too tight and about to burst all to pieces.

“Oh, I’m crazy,” she says, “I’m insane. I can’t take her. Keep her. What am I thinking of. Jason,” she says, grabbing my arm. Her hands were hot as fever. “You’ll have to promise to take care of her, to—She’s kin to you; your own flesh and blood. Promise, Jason. You have Father’s name: do you think I’d have to ask him twice? once, even?”

“That’s so,” I says, “He did leave me something. What do you want me to do,” I says, “Buy an apron and a gocart? I never got you into this,” I says. “I run more risk than you do, because you haven’t got anything at stake. So if you expect—”

“No,” she says, then she begun to laugh and to try to hold it back all at the same time. “No. I have nothing at stake,” she says, making that noise, putting her hands to her mouth, “Nuh-nuh-nothing,” she says.

“Here,” I says, “Stop that!”

“I’m trying to,” she says, holding her hands over her mouth. “Oh God, oh God.”

“I’m going away from here,” I says, “I cant be seen here. You get on out of town now, you hear?”

“Wait,” she says, catching my arm. “I’ve stopped. I wont again. You promise, Jason?” she says, and me feeling her eyes almost like they were touching my face, “You promise? Mother—that money—if sometimes she needs things—If I send checks for her to you, other ones besides those, you’ll give them to her? You won’t tell? You’ll see that she has things like other girls?”

“Sure,” I says, “As long as you behave and do like I tell you.”

And so when Earl came up front with his hat on he says, “I’m going to step up to Rogers’ and get a snack. We wont have time to go home to dinner, I reckon.”

“What’s the matter we wont have time?” I says.

“With this show in town and all,” he says. “They’re going to give an afternoon performance too, and they’ll all want to get done trading in time to go to it. So we’d better just run up to Rogers.”

“All right,” I says, “It’s your stomach. If you want to make a slave of yourself to your business, it’s all right with me.”

“I reckon you’ll never be a slave to any business,” he says.

“Not unless it’s Jason Compson’s business,” I says.

So when I went back and opened it the only thing that surprised me was it was a money order not a check. Yes, sir. You cant trust a one of them. After all the risk I’d taken, risking Mother finding out about her coming down here once or twice a year sometimes, and me having to tell Mother lies about it. That’s gratitude for you. And I wouldn’t put it past her to try to notify the postoffice not to let anyone except her cash it. Giving a kid like that fifty dollars. Why I never saw fifty dollars until I was twenty-one years old, with all the other boys with the afternoon off and all day Saturday and me working in a store. Like I say, how can they expect anybody to control her, with her giving her money behind our backs. She has the same home you had I says, and the same raising. I reckon Mother is a better judge of what she needs than you are, that haven’t even got a home. “If you want to give her money,” I says, “You send it to Mother, dont be giving it to her. If I’ve got to run this risk every few months, you’ll have to do like I say, or it’s out.”

And just about the time I got ready to begin on it because if Earl thought I was going to dash up the street and gobble two bits worth of indigestion on his account he was bad fooled. I may not be sitting with my feet on a mahogany desk but I am being paid for what I do inside this building and if I can manage to live a civilised life outside of it I’ll go where I can. I can stand on my own feet; I dont need any man’s mahogany desk to prop me up. So just about the time I got ready to start I’d have to drop everything and run to sell some redneck a dime’s worth of nails or something, and Earl up there gobbling a sandwich and half way back already, like as not, and then I found that all the blanks were gone. I remembered then that I had aimed to get some more, but it was too late now, and then I looked up and there Quentin came. In the back door. I heard her asking old Job if I was there. I just had time to stick them in the drawer and close it.

She came around to the desk. I looked at my watch.

“You been to dinner already?” I says. “It’s just twelve; I just heard it strike. You must have flown home and back.”

“I’m not going home to dinner,” she says. “Did I get a letter today?”

“Were you expecting one?” I says. “Have you got a sweetie that can write?”

“From Mother,” she says. “Did I get a letter from Mother?” she says, looking at me.

“Mother got one from her,” I says. “I haven’t opened it. You’ll have to wait until she opens it. She’ll let you see it, I imagine.”

“Please, Jason,” she says, not paying any attention, “Did I get one?”

“What’s the matter?” I says. “I never knew you to be this anxious about anybody. You must expect some money from her.”

“She said she—” she says. “Please, Jason,” she says, “Did I?”

“You must have been to school today, after all,” I says, “Somewhere where they taught you to say please. Wait a minute, while I wait on that customer.”

I went and waited on him. When I turned to come back she was out of sight behind the desk. I ran. I ran around the desk and caught her as she jerked her hand out of the drawer. I took the letter away from her, beating her knuckles on the desk until she let go.

“You would, would you?” I says.

“Give it to me,” she says, “You’ve already opened it. Give it to me. Please, Jason. It’s mine. I saw the name.”

“I’ll take a hame string to you,” I says. “That’s what I’ll give you. Going into my papers.”

“Is there some money in it?” she says, reaching for it. “She said she would send me some money. She promised she would. Give it to me.”

“What do you want with money?” I says.

“She said she would,” she says, “Give it to me. Please, Jason. I wont ever ask you anything again, if you’ll give it to me this time.”

“I’m going to, if you’ll give me time,” I says. I took the letter and the money order out and gave her the letter. She reached for the money order, not hardly glancing at the letter. “You’ll have to sign it first,” I says.

“How much is it?” she says.

“Read the letter,” I says. “I reckon it’ll say.”

She read it fast, in about two looks.

“It dont say,” she says, looking up. She dropped the letter to the floor. “How much is it?”

“It’s ten dollars,” I says.

“Ten dollars?” she says, staring at me.

“And you ought to be damn glad to get that,” I says, “A kid like you. What are you in such a rush for money all of a sudden for?”

“Ten dollars?” she says, like she was talking in her sleep, “Just ten dollars?” She made a grab at the money order. “You’re lying,” she says. “Thief!” she says, “Thief!”

“You would, would you?” I says, holding her off.

“Give it to me!” she says, “It’s mine. She sent it to me. I will see it. I will.”

“You will?” I says, holding her, “How’re you going to do it?”

“Just let me see it, Jason,” she says, “Please. I wont ask you for anything again.”

“Think I’m lying, do you?” I says. “Just for that you wont see it.”

“But just ten dollars,” she says, “She told me she—she told me—Jason, please please please. I’ve got to have some money. I’ve just got to. Give it to me, Jason. I’ll do anything if you will.”

“Tell me what you’ve got to have money for,” I says.

“I’ve got to have it,” she says. She was looking at me. Then all of a sudden she quit looking at me without moving her eyes at all. I knew she was going to lie. “It’s some money I owe,” she says. “I’ve got to pay it. I’ve got to pay it today.”

“Who to?” I says. Her hands were sort of twisting. I could watch her trying to think of a lie to tell. “Have you been charging things at stores again?” I says. “You needn’t bother to tell me that. If you can find anybody in this town that’ll charge anything to you after what I told them, I’ll eat it.”

“It’s a girl,” she says, “It’s a girl. I borrowed some money from a girl. I’ve got to pay it back. Jason, give it to me. Please. I’ll do anything. I’ve got to have it. Mother will pay you. I’ll write to her to pay you and that I wont ever ask her for anything again. You can see the letter. Please, Jason. I’ve got to have it.”

“Tell me what you want with it, and I’ll see about it,” I says. “Tell me.” She just stood there, with her hands working against her dress. “All right,” I says, “If ten dollars is too little for you, I’ll just take it home to Mother, and you know what’ll happen to it then. Of course, if you’re so rich you dont need ten dollars—”

She stood there, looking at the floor, kind of mumbling to herself. “She said she would send me some money. She said she sends money here and you say she dont send any. She said she’s sent a lot of money here. She says it’s for me. That it’s for me to have some of it. And you say we haven’t got any money.”

“You know as much about that as I do,” I says. “You’ve seen what happens to those checks.”

“Yes,” she says, looking at the floor. “Ten dollars,” she says, “Ten dollars.”

“And you’d better thank your stars it’s ten dollars,” I says. “Here,” I says. I put the money order face down on the desk, holding my hand on it, “Sign it.”

“Will you let me see it?” she says. “I just want to look at it. Whatever it says, I wont ask for but ten dollars. You can have the rest. I just want to see it.”

“Not after the way you’ve acted,” I says. “You’ve got to learn one thing, and that is that when I tell you to do something, you’ve got it to do. You sign your name on that line.”

She took the pen, but instead of signing it she just stood there with her head bent and the pen shaking in her hand. Just like her mother. “Oh, God,” she says, “oh, God.”

“Yes,” I says, “That’s one thing you’ll have to learn if you never learn anything else. Sign it now, and get on out of here.”

She signed it. “Where’s the money?” she says. I took the order and blotted it and put it in my pocket. Then I gave her the ten dollars.

“Now you go on back to school this afternoon, you hear?” I says. She didn’t answer. She crumpled the bill up in her hand like it was a rag or something and went on out the front door just as Earl came in. A customer came in with him and they stopped up front. I gathered up the things and put on my hat and went up front.

“Been much busy?” Earl says.

“Not much,” I says. He looked out the door.

“That your car over yonder?” he says. “Better not try to go out home to dinner. We’ll likely have another rush just before the show opens. Get you a lunch at Rogers’ and put a ticket in the drawer.”

“Much obliged,” I says. “I can still manage to feed myself, I reckon.”

And right there he’d stay, watching that door like a hawk until I came through it again. Well, he’d just have to watch it for a while; I was doing the best I could. The time before I says that’s the last one now; you’ll have to remember to get some more right away. But who can remember anything in all this hurrah. And now this damn show had to come here the one day I’d have to hunt all over town for a blank check, besides all the other things I had to do to keep the house running, and Earl watching the door like a hawk.

I went to the printing shop and told him I wanted to play a joke on a fellow, but he didn’t have anything. Then he told me to have a look in the old opera house, where somebody had stored a lot of papers and junk out of the old Merchants’ and Farmers’ Bank when it failed, so I dodged up a few more alleys so Earl couldn’t see me and finally found old man Simmons and got the key from him and went up there and dug around. At last I found a pad on a Saint Louis bank. And of course she’d pick this one time to look at it close. Well, it would have to do. I couldn’t waste any more time now.

I went back to the store. “Forgot some papers Mother wants to go to the bank,” I says. I went back to the desk and fixed the check. Trying to hurry and all, I says to myself it’s a good thing her eyes are giving out, with that little whore in the house, a Christian forbearing woman like Mother. I says you know just as well as I do what she’s going to grow up into but I says that’s your business, if you want to keep her and raise her in your house just because of Father. Then she would begin to cry and say it was her own flesh and blood so I just says All right. Have it your way. I can stand it if you can.

I fixed the letter up again and glued it back and went out.

“Try not to be gone any longer than you can help,” Earl says.

“All right,” I says. I went to the telegraph office. The smart boys were all there.

“Any of you boys made your million yet?” I says.

“Who can do anything, with a market like that?” Doc says.

“What’s it doing?” I says. I went in and looked. It was three points under the opening. “You boys are not going to let a little thing like the cotton market beat you, are you?” I says. “I thought you were too smart for that.”

“Smart, hell,” Doc says. “It was down twelve points at twelve oclock. Cleaned me out.”

“Twelve points?” I says. “Why the hell didn’t somebody let me know? Why didn’t you let me know?” I says to the operator.

“I take it as it comes in,” he says. “I’m not running a bucket shop.”

“You’re smart, aren’t you?” I says. “Seems to me, with the money I spend with you, you could take time to call me up. Or maybe your damn company’s in a conspiracy with those damn eastern sharks.”

He didn’t say anything. He made like he was busy.

“You’re getting a little too big for your pants,” I says. “First thing you know you’ll be working for a living.”

“What’s the matter with you?” Doc says. “You’re still three points to the good.”

“Yes,” I says, “If I happened to be selling. I haven’t mentioned that yet, I think. You boys all cleaned out?”

“I got caught twice,” Doc says. “I switched just in time.”

“Well,” I. O. Snopes says, “I’ve picked hit; I reckon taint no more than fair fer hit to pick me once in a while.”

So I left them buying and selling among themselves at a nickel a point. I found a nigger and sent him for my car and stood on the corner and waited. I couldn’t see Earl looking up and down the street, with one eye on the clock, because I couldn’t see the door from here. After about a week he got back with it.

“Where the hell have you been?” I says, “Riding around where the wenches could see you?”

“I come straight as I could,” he says, “I had to drive clean around the square, wid all dem wagons.”

I never found a nigger yet that didn’t have an airtight alibi for whatever he did. But just turn one loose in a car and he’s bound to show off. I got in and went on around the square. I caught a glimpse of Earl in the door across the square.

I went straight to the kitchen and told Dilsey to hurry up with dinner.

“Quentin aint come yit,” she says.

“What of that?” I says. “You’ll be telling me next that Luster’s not quite ready to eat yet. Quentin knows when meals are served in this house. Hurry up with it, now.”

Mother was in her room. I gave her the letter. She opened it and took the check out and sat holding it in her hand. I went and got the shovel from the corner and gave her a match. “Come on,” I says, “Get it over with. You’ll be crying in a minute.”

She took the match, but she didn’t strike it. She sat there, looking at the check. Just like I said it would be.

“I hate to do it,” she says, “To increase your burden by adding Quentin. . . .”

“I guess we’ll get along,” I says. “Come on. Get it over with.”

But she just sat there, holding the check.

“This one is on a different bank,” she says. “They have been on an Indianapolis bank.”

“Yes,” I says. “Women are allowed to do that too.”

“Do what?” she says.

“Keep money in two different banks,” I says.

“Oh,” she says. She looked at the check a while. “I’m glad to know she’s so . . . she has so much . . . God sees that I am doing right,” she says.

“Come on,” I says, “Finish it. Get the fun over.”

“Fun?” she says, “When I think—”

“I thought you were burning this two hundred dollars a month for fun,” I says. “Come on, now. Want me to strike the match?”

“I could bring myself to accept them,” she says, “For my children’s sake. I have no pride.”

“You’d never be satisfied,” I says, “You know you wouldn’t. You’ve settled that once, let it stay settled. We can get along.”

“I leave everything to you,” she says. “But sometimes I become afraid that in doing this I am depriving you all of what is rightfully yours. Perhaps I shall be punished for it. If you want me to, I will smother my pride and accept them.”

“What would be the good in beginning now, when you’ve been destroying them for fifteen years?” I says. “If you keep on doing it, you have lost nothing, but if you’d begin to take them now, you’ll have lost fifty thousand dollars. We’ve got along so far, haven’t we?” I says. “I haven’t seen you in the poorhouse yet.”

“Yes,” she says, “We Bascombs need nobody’s charity. Certainly not that of a fallen woman.”

She struck the match and lit the check and put it in the shovel, and then the envelope, and watched them burn.

“You dont know what it is,” she says, “Thank God you will never know what a mother feels.”

“There are lots of women in this world no better than her,” I says.

“But they are not my daughters,” she says. “It’s not myself,” she says, “I’d gladly take her back, sins and all, because she is my flesh and blood. It’s for Quentin’s sake.”

Well, I could have said it wasn’t much chance of anybody hurting Quentin much, but like I say I dont expect much but I do want to eat and sleep without a couple of women squabbling and crying in the house.

“And yours,” she says. “I know how you feel toward her.”

“Let her come back,” I says, “far as I’m concerned.”

“No,” she says. “I owe that to your father’s memory.”

“When he was trying all the time to persuade you to let her come home when Herbert threw her out?” I says.

“You dont understand,” she says. “I know you dont intend to make it more difficult for me. But it’s my place to suffer for my children,” she says. “I can bear it.”

“Seems to me you go to a lot of unnecessary trouble doing it,” I says. The paper burned out. I carried it to the grate and put it in. “It just seems a shame to me to burn up good money,” I says.

“Let me never see the day when my children will have to accept that, the wages of sin,” she says. “I’d rather see even you dead in your coffin first.”

“Have it your way,” I says. “Are we going to have dinner soon?” I says, “Because if we’re not, I’ll have to go on back. We’re pretty busy today.” She got up. “I’ve told her once,” I says. “It seems she’s waiting on Quentin or Luster or somebody. Here, I’ll call her. Wait.” But she went to the head of the stairs and called.

“Quentin aint come yit,” Dilsey says.

“Well, I’ll have to get on back,” I says. “I can get a sandwich down town. I dont want to interfere with Dilsey’s arrangements,” I says. Well, that got her started again, with Dilsey hobbling and mumbling back and forth, saying,

“All right, all right, Ise puttin hit on fast as I kin.”

“I try to please you all,” Mother says, “I try to make things as easy for you as I can.”

“I’m not complaining, am I?” I says. “Have I said a word except I had to go back to work?”

“I know,” she says, “I know you haven’t had the chance the others had, that you’ve had to bury yourself in a little country store. I wanted you to get ahead. I knew your father would never realise that you were the only one who had any business sense, and then when everything else failed I believed that when she married, and Herbert . . . after his promise . . .”

“Well, he was probably lying too,” I says. “He may not have even had a bank. And if he had, I dont reckon he’d have to come all the way to Mississippi to get a man for it.”

We ate awhile. I could hear Ben in the kitchen, where Luster was feeding him. Like I say, if we’ve got to feed another mouth and she wont take that money, why not send him down to Jackson. He’ll be happier there, with people like him. I says God knows there’s little enough room for pride in this family, but it dont take much pride to not like to see a thirty year old man playing around the yard with a nigger boy, running up and down the fence and lowing like a cow whenever they play golf over there. I says if they’d sent him to Jackson at first we’d all be better off today. I says, you’ve done your duty by him; you’ve done all anybody can expect of you and more than most folks would do, so why not send him there and get that much benefit out of the taxes we pay. Then she says, “I’ll be gone soon. I know I’m just a burden to you” and I says “You’ve been saying that so long that I’m beginning to believe you” only I says you’d better be sure and not let me know you’re gone because I’ll sure have him on number seventeen that night and I says I think I know a place where they’ll take her too and the name of it’s not Milk street and Honey avenue either. Then she begun to cry and I says All right all right I have as much pride about my kinfolks as anybody even if I dont always know where they come from.

We ate for awhile. Mother sent Dilsey to the front to look for Quentin again.

“I keep telling you she’s not coming to dinner,” I says.

“She knows better than that,” Mother says, “She knows I dont permit her to run about the streets and not come home at meal time. Did you look good, Dilsey?”

“Dont let her, then,” I says.

“What can I do,” she says. “You have all of you flouted me. Always.”

“If you wouldn’t come interfering, I’d make her mind,” I says. “It wouldn’t take me but about one day to straighten her out.”

“You’d be too brutal with her,” she says. “You have your Uncle Maury’s temper.”

That reminded me of the letter. I took it out and handed it to her. “You wont have to open it,” I says. “The bank will let you know how much it is this time.”

“It’s addressed to you,” she says.

“Go on and open it,” I says. She opened it and read it and handed it to me.

  “ ‘My dear young nephew,’ it says,

  ‘You will be glad to learn that I am now in a position to avail myself of an opportunity regarding which, for reasons which I will make obvious to you, I shall not go into details until I have an opportunity to divulge it to you in a more secure manner. My business experience has taught me to be chary of committing anything of a confidential nature to any more concrete medium than speech, and my extreme precaution in this instance should give you some inkling of its value. Needless to say, I have just completed a most exhaustive examination of all its phases, and I feel no hesitancy in telling you that it is that sort of golden chance that comes but once in a lifetime, and I now see clearly before me that goal toward which I have long and unflaggingly striven: i.e., the ultimate solidification of my affairs by which I may restore to its rightful position that family of which I have the honour to be the sole remaining male descendant; that family in which I have ever included your lady mother and her children.

‘As it so happens, I am not quite in a position to avail myself of this opportunity to the uttermost which it warrants, but rather than go out of the family to do so, I am today drawing upon your Mother’s bank for the small sum necessary to complement my own initial investment, for which I herewith enclose, as a matter of formality, my note of hand at eight percent per annum. Needless to say, this is merely a formality, to secure your Mother in the event of that circumstance of which man is ever the plaything and sport. For naturally I shall employ this sum as though it were my own and so permit your Mother to avail herself of this opportunity which my exhaustive investigation has shown to be a bonanza—if you will permit the vulgarism—of the first water and purest ray serene.

‘This is in confidence, you will understand, from one business man to another; we will harvest our own vineyards, eh? And knowing your Mother’s delicate health and that timorousness which such delicately nurtured Southern ladies would naturally feel regarding matters of business, and their charming proneness to divulge unwittingly such matters in conversation, I would suggest that you do not mention it to her at all. On second thought, I advise you not to do so. It might be better to simply restore this sum to the bank at some future date, say, in a lump sum with the other small sums for which I am indebted to her, and say nothing about it at all. It is our duty to shield her from the crass material world as much as possible.

‘Your affectionate Uncle,

‘Maury L. Bascomb.’ ”

“What do you want to do about it?” I says, flipping it across the table.

“I know you grudge what I give him,” she says.

“It’s your money,” I says. “If you want to throw it to the birds even, it’s your business.”

“He’s my own brother,” Mother says. “He’s the last Bascomb. When we are gone there wont be any more of them.”

“That’ll be hard on somebody, I guess,” I says. “All right, all right,” I says, “It’s your money. Do as you please with it. You want me to tell the bank to pay it?”

“I know you begrudge him,” she says. “I realise the burden on your shoulders. When I’m gone it will be easier on you.”

“I could make it easier right now,” I says. “All right, all right, I wont mention it again. Move all bedlam in here if you want to.”

“He’s your own brother,” she says, “Even if he is afflicted.”

“I’ll take your bank book,” I says. “I’ll draw my check today.”

“He kept you waiting six days,” she says. “Are you sure the business is sound? It seems strange to me that a solvent business cannot pay its employees promptly.”

“He’s all right,” I says, “Safe as a bank. I tell him not to bother about mine until we get done collecting every month. That’s why it’s late sometimes.”

“I just couldn’t bear to have you lose the little I had to invest for you,” she says. “I’ve often thought that Earl is not a good business man. I know he doesn’t take you into his confidence to the extent that your investment in the business should warrant. I’m going to speak to him.”

“No, you let him alone,” I says. “It’s his business.”

“You have a thousand dollars in it.”

“You let him alone,” I says, “I’m watching things. I have your power of attorney. It’ll be all right.”

“You dont know what a comfort you are to me,” she says. “You have always been my pride and joy, but when you came to me of your own accord and insisted on banking your salary each month in my name, I thanked God it was you left me if they had to be taken.”

“They were all right,” I says. “They did the best they could, I reckon.”

“When you talk that way I know you are thinking bitterly of your father’s memory,” she says. “You have a right to, I suppose. But it breaks my heart to hear you.”

I got up. “If you’ve got any crying to do,” I says, “you’ll have to do it alone, because I’ve got to get on back. I’ll get the bank book.”

“I’ll get it,” she says.

“Keep still,” I says, “I’ll get it.” I went upstairs and got the bank book out of her desk and went back to town. I went to the bank and deposited the check and the money order and the other ten, and stopped at the telegraph office. It was one point above the opening. I had already lost thirteen points, all because she had to come helling in there at twelve, worrying me about that letter.

“What time did that report come in?” I says.

“About an hour ago,” he says.

“An hour ago?” I says. “What are we paying you for?” I says, “Weekly reports? How do you expect a man to do anything? The whole damn top could blow off and we’d not know it.”

“I dont expect you to do anything,” he says. “They changed that law making folks play the cotton market.”

“They have,” I says. “I hadn’t heard. They must have sent the news out over the Western Union.”

I went back to the store. Thirteen points. Damn if I believe anybody knows anything about the damn thing except the ones that sit back in those New York offices and watch the country suckers come up and beg them to take their money. Well, a man that just calls shows he has no faith in himself, and like I say if you aren’t going to take the advice, what’s the use in paying money for it. Besides, these people are right up there on the ground; they know everything that’s going on. I could feel the telegram in my pocket. I’d just have to prove that they were using the telegraph company to defraud. That would constitute a bucket shop. And I wouldn’t hesitate that long, either. Only be damned if it doesn’t look like a company as big and rich as the Western Union could get a market report out on time. Half as quick as they’ll get a wire to you saying Your account closed out. But what the hell do they care about the people. They’re hand in glove with that New York crowd. Anybody could see that.

When I came in Earl looked at his watch. But he didn’t say anything until the customer was gone. Then he says,

“You go home to dinner?”

“I had to go to the dentist,” I says because it’s not any of his business where I eat but I’ve got to be in the store with him all the afternoon. And with his jaw running off after all I’ve stood. You take a little two by four country storekeeper like I say it takes a man with just five hundred dollars to worry about it fifty thousand dollars’ worth.

“You might have told me,” he says. “I expected you back right away.”

“I’ll trade you this tooth and give you ten dollars to boot, any time,” I says. “Our agreement was an hour for dinner,” I says, “and if you dont like the way I do, you know what you can do about it.”

“I’ve known that some time,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for your mother I’d have done it before now, too. She’s a lady I’ve got a lot of sympathy for, Jason. Too bad some other folks I know cant say as much.”

“Then you can keep it,” I says. “When we need any sympathy I’ll let you know in plenty of time.”

“I’ve protected you about that business a long time, Jason,” he says.

“Yes?” I says, letting him go on. Listening to what he would say before I shut him up.

“I believe I know more about where that automobile came from than she does.”

“You think so, do you?” I says. “When are you going to spread the news that I stole it from my mother?”

“I dont say anything,” he says, “I know you have her power of attorney. And I know she still believes that thousand dollars is in this business.”

“All right,” I says, “Since you know so much, I’ll tell you a little more: go to the bank and ask them whose account I’ve been depositing a hundred and sixty dollars on the first of every month for twelve years.”

“I dont say anything,” he says, “I just ask you to be a little more careful after this.”

I never said anything more. It doesn’t do any good. I’ve found that when a man gets into a rut the best thing you can do is let him stay there. And when a man gets it in his head that he’s got to tell something on you for your own good, goodnight. I’m glad I haven’t got the sort of conscience I’ve got to nurse like a sick puppy all the time. If I’d ever be as careful over anything as he is to keep his little shirt tail full of business from making him more than eight percent. I reckon he thinks they’d get him on the usury law if he netted more than eight percent. What the hell chance has a man got, tied down in a town like this and to a business like this. Why I could take his business in one year and fix him so he’d never have to work again, only he’d give it all away to the church or something. If there’s one thing gets under my skin, it’s a damn hypocrite. A man that thinks anything he dont understand all about must be crooked and that first chance he gets he’s morally bound to tell the third party what’s none of his business to tell. Like I say if I thought every time a man did something I didn’t know all about he was bound to be a crook, I reckon I wouldn’t have any trouble finding something back there on those books that you wouldn’t see any use for running and telling somebody I thought ought to know about it, when for all I knew they might know a damn sight more about it now than I did, and if they didn’t it was damn little of my business anyway and he says, “My books are open to anybody. Anybody that has any claim or believes she has any claim on this business can go back there and welcome.”

“Sure, you wont tell,” I says, “You couldn’t square your conscience with that. You’ll just take her back there and let her find it. You wont tell, yourself.”

“I’m not trying to meddle in your business,” he says. “I know you missed out on some things like Quentin had. But your mother has had a misfortunate life too, and if she was to come in here and ask me why you quit, I’d have to tell her. It aint that thousand dollars. You know that. It’s because a man never gets anywhere if fact and his ledgers dont square. And I’m not going to lie to anybody, for myself or anybody else.”

“Well, then,” I says, “I reckon that conscience of yours is a more valuable clerk than I am; it dont have to go home at noon to eat. Only dont let it interfere with my appetite,” I says, because how the hell can I do anything right, with that damn family and her not making any effort to control her nor any of them, like that time when she happened to see one of them kissing Caddy and all next day she went around the house in a black dress and a veil and even Father couldn’t get her to say a word except crying and saying her little daughter was dead and Caddy about fifteen then only in three years she’d been wearing haircloth or probably sandpaper at that rate. Do you think I can afford to have her running about the streets with every drummer that comes to town, I says, and them telling the new ones up and down the road where to pick up a hot one when they made Jefferson. I haven’t got much pride, I can’t afford it with a kitchen full of niggers to feed and robbing the state asylum of its star freshman. Blood, I says, governors and generals. It’s a damn good thing we never had any kings and presidents; we’d all be down there at Jackson chasing butterflies. I say it’d be bad enough if it was mine; I’d at least be sure it was a bastard to begin with, and now even the Lord doesn’t know that for certain probably.

So after awhile I heard the band start up, and then they begun to clear out. Headed for the show, every one of them. Haggling over a twenty cent hame string to save fifteen cents, so they can give it to a bunch of Yankees that come in and pay maybe ten dollars for the privilege. I went on out to the back.

“Well,” I says, “If you dont look out, that bolt will grow into your hand. And then I’m going to take an axe and chop it out. What do you reckon the boll-weevils’ll eat if you dont get those cultivators in shape to raise them a crop?” I says, “sage grass?”

“Dem folks sho do play dem horns,” he says. “Tell me man in dat show kin play a tune on a handsaw. Pick hit like a banjo.”

“Listen,” I says. “Do you know how much that show’ll spend in this town? About ten dollars,” I says. “The ten dollars Buck Turpin has in his pocket right now.”

“Whut dey give Mr Buck ten dollars fer?” he says.

“For the privilege of showing here,” I says. “You can put the balance of what they’ll spend in your eye.”

“You mean dey pays ten dollars jest to give dey show here?” he says.

“That’s all,” I says. “And how much do you reckon . . .”

“Gret day,” he says, “You mean to tell me dey chargin um to let um show here? I’d pay ten dollars to see dat man pick dat saw, ef I had to. I figures dat tomorrow mawnin I be still owin um nine dollars and six bits at dat rate.”

And then a Yankee will talk your head off about niggers getting ahead. Get them ahead, what I say. Get them so far ahead you cant find one south of Louisville with a blood hound. Because when I told him about how they’d pick up Saturday night and carry off at least a thousand dollars out of the county, he says,

“I dont begrudge um. I kin sho afford my two bits.”

“Two bits hell,” I says. “That dont begin it. How about the dime or fifteen cents you’ll spend for a damn two cent box of candy or something. How about the time you’re wasting right now, listening to that band.”

“Dat’s de troof,” he says. “Well, ef I lives twell night hit’s gwine to be two bits mo dey takin out of town, dat’s sho.”

“Then you’re a fool,” I says.

“Well,” he says, “I dont spute dat neither. Ef dat uz a crime, all chain-gangs wouldn’t be black.”

Well, just about that time I happened to look up the alley and saw her. When I stepped back and looked at my watch I didn’t notice at the time who he was because I was looking at the watch. It was just two thirty, forty-five minutes before anybody but me expected her to be out. So when I looked around the door the first thing I saw was the red tie he had on and I was thinking what the hell kind of a man would wear a red tie. But she was sneaking along the alley, watching the door, so I wasn’t thinking anything about him until they had gone past. I was wondering if she’d have so little respect for me that she’d not only play out of school when I told her not to but would walk right past the store, daring me not to see her. Only she couldn’t see into the door because the sun fell straight into it and it was like trying to see through an automobile searchlight, so I stood there and watched her go on past, with her face painted up like a damn clown’s and her hair all gummed and twisted and a dress that if a woman had come out doors even on Gayoso or Beale street when I was a young fellow with no more than that to cover her legs and behind, she’d been thrown in jail. I’ll be damned if they dont dress like they were trying to make every man they passed on the street want to reach out and clap his hand on it. And so I was thinking what kind of a damn man would wear a red tie when all of a sudden I knew he was one of those show folks well as if she’d told me. Well, I can stand a lot; if I couldn’t, damn if I wouldn’t be in a hell of a fix, so when they turned the corner I jumped down and followed. Me, without any hat, in the middle of the afternoon, having to chase up and down back alleys because of my mother’s good name. Like I say you cant do anything with a woman like that, if she’s got it in her. If it’s in her blood, you cant do anything with her. The only thing you can do is to get rid of her, let her go on and live with her own sort.

I went on to the street, but they were out of sight. And there I was, without any hat, looking like I was crazy too. Like a man would naturally think, one of them is crazy and another one drowned himself and the other one was turned out into the street by her husband, what’s the reason the rest of them are not crazy too. All the time I could see them watching me like a hawk, waiting for a chance to say Well I’m not surprised I expected it all the time the whole family’s crazy. Selling land to send him to Harvard and paying taxes to support a state University all the time that I never saw except twice at a baseball game and not letting her daughter’s name be spoken on the place until after a while Father wouldn’t even come down town anymore but just sat there all day with the decanter I could see the bottom of his nightshirt and his bare legs and hear the decanter clinking until finally T. P. had to pour it for him and she says You have no respect for your Father’s memory and I says I dont know why not it sure is preserved well enough to last only if I’m crazy too God knows what I’ll do about it just to look at water makes me sick and I’d just as soon swallow gasoline as a glass of whiskey and Lorraine telling them he may not drink but if you dont believe he’s a man I can tell you how to find out she says If I catch you fooling with any of these whores you know what I’ll do she says I’ll whip her grabbing at her I’ll whip her as long as I can find her she says and I says if I dont drink that’s my business but have you ever found me short I says I’ll buy you enough beer to take a bath in if you want it because I’ve got every respect for a good honest whore because with Mother’s health and the position I try to uphold to have her with no more respect for what I try to do for her than to make her name and my name and my Mother’s name a byword in the town.

She had dodged out of sight somewhere. Saw me coming and dodged into another alley, running up and down the alleys with a damn show man in a red tie that everybody would look at and think what kind of a damn man would wear a red tie. Well, the boy kept speaking to me and so I took the telegram without knowing I had taken it. I didn’t realise what it was until I was signing for it, and I tore it open without even caring much what it was. I knew all the time what it would be, I reckon. That was the only thing else that could happen, especially holding it up until I had already had the check entered on the pass book.

I don’t see how a city no bigger than New York can hold enough people to take the money away from us country suckers. Work like hell all day every day, send them your money and get a little piece of paper back, Your account closed at 20.62. Teasing you along, letting you pile up a little paper profit, then bang! Your account closed at 20.62. And if that wasn’t enough, paying ten dollars a month to somebody to tell you how to lose it fast, that either dont know anything about it or is in cahoots with the telegraph company. Well, I’m done with them. They’ve sucked me in for the last time. Any fool except a fellow that hasn’t got any more sense than to take a jew’s word for anything could tell the market was going up all the time, with the whole damn delta about to be flooded again and the cotton washed right out of the ground like it was last year. Let it wash a man’s crop out of the ground year after year, and them up there in Washington spending fifty thousand dollars a day keeping an army in Nicaragua or some place. Of course it’ll overflow again, and then cotton’ll be worth thirty cents a pound. Well, I just want to hit them one time and get my money back. I don’t want a killing; only these small town gamblers are out for that, I just want my money back that these damn jews have gotten with all their guaranteed inside dope. Then I’m through; they can kiss my foot for every other red cent of mine they get.

I went back to the store. It was half past three almost. Damn little time to do anything in, but then I am used to that. I never had to go to Harvard to learn that. The band had quit playing. Got them all inside now, and they wouldn’t have to waste any more wind. Earl says,

“He found you, did he? He was in here with it a while ago. I thought you were out back somewhere.”

“Yes,” I says, “I got it. They couldn’t keep it away from me all afternoon. The town’s too small. I’ve got to go out home a minute,” I says. “You can dock me if it’ll make you feel any better.”

“Go ahead,” he says, “I can handle it now. No bad news, I hope.”

“You’ll have to go to the telegraph office and find that out,” I says. “They’ll have time to tell you. I haven’t.”

“I just asked,” he says. “Your mother knows she can depend on me.”

“She’ll appreciate it,” I says. “I wont be gone any longer than I have to.”

“Take your time,” he says. “I can handle it now. You go ahead.”

I got the car and went home. Once this morning, twice at noon, and now again, with her and having to chase all over town and having to beg them to let me eat a little of the food I am paying for. Sometimes I think what’s the use of anything. With the precedent I’ve been set I must be crazy to keep on. And now I reckon I’ll get home just in time to take a nice long drive after a basket of tomatoes or something and then have to go back to town smelling like a camphor factory so my head wont explode right on my shoulders. I keep telling her there’s not a damn thing in that aspirin except flour and water for imaginary invalids. I says you dont know what a headache is. I says you think I’d fool with that damn car at all if it depended on me. I says I can get along without one I’ve learned to get along without lots of things but if you want to risk yourself in that old wornout surrey with a halfgrown nigger boy all right because I says God looks after Ben’s kind, God knows He ought to do something for him but if you think I’m going to trust a thousand dollars’ worth of delicate machinery to a halfgrown nigger or a grown one either, you’d better buy him one yourself because I says you like to ride in the car and you know you do.

Dilsey said Mother was in the house. I went on into the hall and listened, but I didn’t hear anything. I went up stairs, but just as I passed her door she called me.

“I just wanted to know who it was,” she says. “I’m here alone so much that I hear every sound.”

“You dont have to stay here,” I says. “You could spend the whole day visiting like other women, if you wanted to.” She came to the door.

“I thought maybe you were sick,” she says. “Having to hurry through your dinner like you did.”

“Better luck next time,” I says. “What do you want?”

“Is anything wrong?” she says.

“What could be?” I says. “Cant I come home in the middle of the afternoon without upsetting the whole house?”

“Have you seen Quentin?” she says.

“She’s in school,” I says.

“It’s after three,” she says. “I heard the clock strike at least a half an hour ago. She ought to be home by now.”

“Ought she?” I says. “When have you ever seen her before dark?”

“She ought to be home,” she says. “When I was a girl . . .”

“You had somebody to make you behave yourself,” I says. “She hasn’t.”

“I can’t do anything with her,” she says. “I’ve tried and I’ve tried.”

“And you wont let me, for some reason,” I says, “So you ought to be satisfied.” I went on to my room. I turned the key easy and stood there until the knob turned. Then she says,


“What,” I says.

“I just thought something was wrong.”

“Not in here,” I says. “You’ve come to the wrong place.”

“I dont mean to worry you,” she says.

“I’m glad to hear that,” I says. “I wasn’t sure. I thought I might have been mistaken. Do you want anything?”

After awhile she says, “No. Not anything.” Then she went away. I took the box down and counted out the money and hid the box again and unlocked the door and went out. I thought about the camphor, but it would be too late now, anyway. And I’d just have one more round trip. She was at her door, waiting.

“You want anything from town?” I says.

“No,” she says. “I dont mean to meddle in your affairs. But I dont know what I’d do if anything happened to you, Jason.”

“I’m all right,” I says. “Just a headache.”

“I wish you’d take some aspirin,” she says. “I know you’re not going to stop using the car.”

“What’s the car got to do with it?” I says. “How can a car give a man a headache?”

“You know gasoline always made you sick,” she says. “Ever since you were a child. I wish you’d take some aspirin.”

“Keep on wishing it,” I says. “It wont hurt you.”

I got in the car and started back to town. I had just turned onto the street when I saw a ford coming helling toward me. All of a sudden it stopped. I could hear the wheels sliding and it slewed around and backed and whirled and just as I was thinking what the hell they were up to, I saw that red tie. Then I recognised her face looking back through the window. It whirled into the alley. I saw it turn again, but when I got to the back street it was just disappearing, running like hell.

I saw red. When I recognised that red tie, after all I had told her, I forgot about everything. I never thought about my head even until I came to the first forks and had to stop. Yet we spend money and spend money on roads and damn if it isn’t like trying to drive over a sheet of corrugated iron roofing. I’d like to know how a man could be expected to keep up with even a wheelbarrow. I think too much of my car; I’m not going to hammer it to pieces like it was a ford. Chances were they had stolen it, anyway, so why should they give a damn. Like I say blood always tells. If you’ve got blood like that in you, you’ll do anything. I says whatever claim you believe she has on you has already been discharged; I says from now on you have only yourself to blame because you know what any sensible person would do. I says if I’ve got to spend half my time being a damn detective, at least I’ll go where I can get paid for it.

So I had to stop there at the forks. Then I remembered it. It felt like somebody was inside with a hammer, beating on it. I says I’ve tried to keep you from being worried by her; I says far as I’m concerned, let her go to hell as fast as she pleases and the sooner the better. I says what else do you expect except every drummer and cheap show that comes to town because even these town jellybeans give her the go-by now. You dont know what goes on I says, you dont hear the talk that I hear and you can just bet I shut them up too. I says my people owned slaves here when you all were running little shirt tail country stores and farming land no nigger would look at on shares.

If they ever farmed it. It’s a good thing the Lord did something for this country; the folks that live on it never have. Friday afternoon, and from right here I could see three miles of land that hadn’t even been broken, and every able bodied man in the county in town at that show. I might have been a stranger starving to death, and there wasn’t a soul in sight to ask which way to town even. And she trying to get me to take aspirin. I says when I eat bread I’ll do it at the table. I says you always talking about how much you give up for us when you could buy ten new dresses a year on the money you spend for those damn patent medicines. It’s not something to cure it I need it’s just an even break not to have to have them but as long as I have to work ten hours a day to support a kitchen full of niggers in the style they’re accustomed to and send them to the show with every other nigger in the county, only he was late already. By the time he got there it would be over.

After awhile he got up to the car and when I finally got it through his head if two people in a ford had passed him, he said yes. So I went on, and when I came to where the wagon road turned off I could see the tire tracks. Ab Russell was in his lot, but I didn’t bother to ask him and I hadn’t got out of sight of his barn hardly when I saw the ford. They had tried to hide it. Done about as well at it as she did at everything else she did. Like I say it’s not that I object to so much; maybe she cant help that, it’s because she hasn’t even got enough consideration for her own family to have any discretion. I’m afraid all the time I’ll run into them right in the middle of the street or under a wagon on the square, like a couple of dogs.

I parked and got out. And now I’d have to go way around and cross a plowed field, the only one I had seen since I left town, with every step like somebody was walking along behind me, hitting me on the head with a club. I kept thinking that when I got across the field at least I’d have something level to walk on, that wouldn’t jolt me every step, but when I got into the woods it was full of underbrush and I had to twist around through it, and then I came to a ditch full of briers. I went along it for awhile, but it got thicker and thicker, and all the time Earl probably telephoning home about where I was and getting Mother all upset again.

When I finally got through I had had to wind around so much that I had to stop and figure out just where the car would be. I knew they wouldn’t be far from it, just under the closest bush, so I turned and worked back toward the road. Then I couldn’t tell just how far I was, so I’d have to stop and listen, and then with my legs not using so much blood, it all would go into my head like it would explode any minute, and the sun getting down just to where it could shine straight into my eyes and my ears ringing so I couldn’t hear anything. I went on, trying to move quiet, then I heard a dog or something and I knew that when he scented me he’d have to come helling up, then it would be all off.

I had gotten beggar lice and twigs and stuff all over me, inside my clothes and shoes and all, and then I happened to look around and I had my hand right on a bunch of poison oak. The only thing I couldn’t understand was why it was just poison oak and not a snake or something. So I didn’t even bother to move it. I just stood there until the dog went away. Then I went on.

I didn’t have any idea where the car was now. I couldn’t think about anything except my head, and I’d just stand in one place and sort of wonder if I had really seen a ford even, and I didn’t even care much whether I had or not. Like I say, let her lay out all day and all night with everything in town that wears pants, what do I care. I dont owe anything to anybody that has no more consideration for me, that wouldn’t be a damn bit above planting that ford there and making me spend a whole afternoon and Earl taking her back there and showing her the books just because he’s too damn virtuous for this world. I says you’ll have one hell of a time in heaven, without anybody’s business to meddle in only dont you ever let me catch you at it I says, I close my eyes to it because of your grandmother, but just you let me catch you doing it one time on this place, where my mother lives. These damn little slick haired squirts, thinking they are raising so much hell, I’ll show them something about hell I says, and you too. I’ll make him think that damn red tie is the latch string to hell, if he thinks he can run the woods with my niece.

With the sun and all in my eyes and my blood going so I kept thinking every time my head would go on and burst and get it over with, with briers and things grabbing at me, then I came onto the sand ditch where they had been and I recognised the tree where the car was, and just as I got out of the ditch and started running I heard the car start. It went off fast, blowing the horn. They kept on blowing it, like it was saying Yah. Yah. Yaaahhhhhhhh, going out of sight. I got to the road just in time to see it go out of sight.

By the time I got up to where my car was, they were clean out of sight, the horn still blowing. Well, I never thought anything about it except I was saying Run. Run back to town. Run home and try to convince Mother that I never saw you in that car. Try to make her believe that I dont know who he was. Try to make her believe that I didn’t miss ten feet of catching you in that ditch. Try to make her believe you were standing up, too.

It kept on saying Yahhhhh, Yahhhhh, Yaaahhhhhhhhh, getting fainter and fainter. Then it quit, and I could hear a cow lowing up at Russell’s barn. And still I never thought. I went up to the door and opened it and raised my foot. I kind of thought then that the car was leaning a little more than the slant of the road would be, but I never found it out until I got in and started off.

Well, I just sat there. It was getting on toward sundown, and town was about five miles. They never even had guts enough to puncture it, to jab a hole in it. They just let the air out. I just stood there for a while, thinking about that kitchen full of niggers and not one of them had time to lift a tire onto the rack and screw up a couple of bolts. It was kind of funny because even she couldn’t have seen far enough ahead to take the pump out on purpose, unless she thought about it while he was letting out the air maybe. But what it probably was, was somebody took it out and gave it to Ben to play with for a squirt gun because they’d take the whole car to pieces if he wanted it and Dilsey says, Aint nobody teched yo car. What we want to fool with hit fer? and I says You’re a nigger. You’re lucky, do you know it? I says I’ll swap with you any day because it takes a white man not to have anymore sense than to worry about what a little slut of a girl does.

I walked up to Russell’s. He had a pump. That was just an oversight on their part, I reckon. Only I still couldn’t believe she’d have had the nerve to. I kept thinking that. I dont know why it is I cant seem to learn that a woman’ll do anything. I kept thinking, Let’s forget for awhile how I feel toward you and how you feel toward me: I just wouldn’t do you this way. I wouldn’t do you this way no matter what you had done to me. Because like I say blood is blood and you cant get around it. It’s not playing a joke that any eight year old boy could have thought of, it’s letting your own uncle be laughed at by a man that would wear a red tie. They come into town and call us all a bunch of hicks and think it’s too small to hold them. Well he doesn’t know just how right he is. And her too. If that’s the way she feels about it, she’d better keep right on going and a damn good riddance.

I stopped and returned Russell’s pump and drove on to town. I went to the drugstore and got a coca-cola and then I went to the telegraph office. It had closed at 12.21, forty points down. Forty times five dollars; buy something with that if you can, and she’ll say, I’ve got to have it I’ve just got to and I’ll say that’s too bad you’ll have to try somebody else, I haven’t got any money; I’ve been too busy to make any.

I just looked at him.

“I’ll tell you some news,” I says, “You’ll be astonished to learn that I am interested in the cotton market,” I says. “That never occurred to you, did it?”

“I did my best to deliver it,” he says. “I tried the store twice and called up your house, but they didn’t know where you were,” he says, digging in the drawer.

“Deliver what?” I says. He handed me a telegram. “What time did this come?” I says.

“About half past three,” he says.

“And now it’s ten minutes past five,” I says.

“I tried to deliver it,” he says. “I couldn’t find you.”

“That’s not my fault, is it?” I says. I opened it, just to see what kind of a lie they’d tell me this time. They must be in one hell of a shape if they’ve got to come all the way to Mississippi to steal ten dollars a month. Sell, it says. The market will be unstable, with a general downward tendency. Do not be alarmed following government report.

“How much would a message like this cost?” I says. He told me.

“They paid it,” he says.

“Then I owe them that much,” I says. “I already knew this. Send this collect,” I says, taking a blank. Buy, I wrote, Market just on point of blowing its head off. Occasional flurries for purpose of hooking a few more country suckers who haven’t got in to the telegraph office yet. Do not be alarmed. “Send that collect,” I says.

He looked at the message, then he looked at the clock. “Market closed an hour ago,” he says.

“Well,” I says, “That’s not my fault either. I didn’t invent it; I just bought a little of it while under the impression that the telegraph company would keep me informed as to what it was doing.”

“A report is posted whenever it comes in,” he says.

“Yes,” I says, “And in Memphis they have it on a blackboard every ten seconds,” I says. “I was within sixty-seven miles of there once this afternoon.”

He looked at the message. “You want to send this?” he says.

“I still haven’t changed my mind,” I says. I wrote the other one out and counted the money. “And this one too, if you’re sure you can spell b-u-y.”

I went back to the store. I could hear the band from down the street. Prohibition’s a fine thing. Used to be they’d come in Saturday with just one pair of shoes in the family and him wearing them, and they’d go down to the express office and get his package; now they all go to the show barefooted, with the merchants in the door like a row of tigers or something in a cage, watching them pass. Earl says,

“I hope it wasn’t anything serious.”

“What?” I says. He looked at his watch. Then he went to the door and looked at the courthouse clock. “You ought to have a dollar watch,” I says. “It wont cost you so much to believe it’s lying each time.”

“What?” he says.

“Nothing,” I says. “Hope I haven’t inconvenienced you.”

“We were not busy much,” he says. “They all went to the show. It’s all right.”

“If it’s not all right,” I says, “You know what you can do about it.”

“I said it was all right,” he says.

“I heard you,” I says. “And if it’s not all right, you know what you can do about it.”

“Do you want to quit?” he says.

“It’s not my business,” I says. “My wishes dont matter. But dont get the idea that you are protecting me by keeping me.”

“You’d be a good business man if you’d let yourself, Jason,” he says.

“At least I can tend to my own business and let other peoples’ alone,” I says.

“I dont know why you are trying to make me fire you,” he says. “You know you could quit anytime and there wouldn’t be any hard feelings between us.”

“Maybe that’s why I dont quit,” I says. “As long as I tend to my job, that’s what you are paying me for.” I went on to the back and got a drink of water and went on out to the back door. Job had the cultivators all set up at last. It was quiet there, and pretty soon my head got a little easier. I could hear them singing now, and then the band played again. Well, let them get every quarter and dime in the county; it was no skin off my back. I’ve done what I could; a man that can live as long as I have and not know when to quit is a fool. Especially as it’s no business of mine. If it was my own daughter now it would be different, because she wouldn’t have time to; she’d have to work some to feed a few invalids and idiots and niggers, because how could I have the face to bring anybody there. I’ve too much respect for anybody to do that. I’m a man, I can stand it, it’s my own flesh and blood and I’d like to see the colour of the man’s eyes that would speak disrespectful of any woman that was my friend it’s these damn good women that do it I’d like to see the good, church-going woman that’s half as square as Lorraine, whore or no whore. Like I say if I was to get married you’d go up like a balloon and you know it and she says I want you to be happy to have a family of your own not to slave your life away for us. But I’ll be gone soon and then you can take a wife but you’ll never find a woman who is worthy of you and I says yes I could. You’d get right up out of your grave you know you would. I says no thank you I have all the women I can take care of now if I married a wife she’d probably turn out to be a hophead or something. That’s all we lack in this family, I says.

The sun was down beyond the Methodist church now, and the pigeons were flying back and forth around the steeple, and when the band stopped I could hear them cooing. It hadn’t been four months since Christmas, and yet they were almost as thick as ever. I reckon Parson Walthall was getting a belly full of them now. You’d have thought we were shooting people, with him making speeches and even holding onto a man’s gun when they came over. Talking about peace on earth good will toward all and not a sparrow can fall to earth. But what does he care how thick they get, he hasn’t got anything to do; what does he care what time it is. He pays no taxes, he doesn’t have to see his money going every year to have the courthouse clock cleaned to where it’ll run. They had to pay a man forty-five dollars to clean it. I counted over a hundred half-hatched pigeons on the ground. You’d think they’d have sense enough to leave town. It’s a good thing I dont have any more ties than a pigeon, I’ll say that.

The band was playing again, a loud fast tune, like they were breaking up. I reckon they’d be satisfied now. Maybe they’d have enough music to entertain them while they drove fourteen or fifteen miles home and unharnessed in the dark and fed the stock and milked. All they’d have to do would be to whistle the music and tell the jokes to the live stock in the barn, and then they could count up how much they’d made by not taking the stock to the show too. They could figure that if a man had five children and seven mules, he cleared a quarter by taking his family to the show. Just like that. Earl came back with a couple of packages.

“Here’s some more stuff going out,” he says. “Where’s Uncle Job?”

“Gone to the show, I imagine,” I says. “Unless you watched him.”

“He doesn’t slip off,” he says. “I can depend on him.”

“Meaning me by that,” I says.

He went to the door and looked out, listening.

“That’s a good band,” he says. “It’s about time they were breaking up, I’d say.”

“Unless they’re going to spend the night there,” I says. The swallows had begun, and I could hear the sparrows beginning to swarm in the trees in the courthouse yard. Every once in a while a bunch of them would come swirling around in sight above the roof, then go away. They are as big a nuisance as the pigeons, to my notion. You cant even sit in the courthouse yard for them. First thing you know, bing. Right on your hat. But it would take a millionaire to afford to shoot them at five cents a shot. If they’d just put a little poison out there in the square, they’d get rid of them in a day, because if a merchant cant keep his stock from running around the square, he’d better try to deal in something besides chickens, something that dont eat, like plows or onions. And if a man dont keep his dogs up, he either dont want it or he hasn’t any business with one. Like I say if all the businesses in a town are run like country businesses, you’re going to have a country town.

“It wont do you any good if they have broke up,” I says. “They’ll have to hitch up and take out to get home by midnight as it is.”

“Well,” he says, “They enjoy it. Let them spend a little money on a show now and then. A hill farmer works pretty hard and gets mighty little for it.”

“There’s no law making them farm in the hills,” I says, “Or anywhere else.”

“Where would you and me be, if it wasn’t for the farmers?” he says.

“I’d be home right now,” I says, “Lying down, with an ice pack on my head.”

“You have these headaches too often,” he says. “Why dont you have your teeth examined good? Did he go over them all this morning?”

“Did who?” I says.

“You said you went to the dentist this morning.”

“Do you object to my having the headache on your time?” I says. “Is that it?” They were crossing the alley now, coming up from the show.

“There they come,” he says. “I reckon I better get up front.” He went on. It’s a curious thing how no matter what’s wrong with you, a man’ll tell you to have your teeth examined and a woman’ll tell you to get married. It always takes a man that never made much at any thing to tell you how to run your business, though. Like these college professors without a whole pair of socks to their name, telling you how to make a million in ten years, and a woman that couldn’t even get a husband can always tell you how to raise a family.

Old man Job came up with the wagon. After a while he got through wrapping the lines around the whip socket.

“Well,” I says, “Was it a good show?”

“I aint been yit,” he says. “But I kin be arrested in dat tent tonight, dough.”

“Like hell you haven’t,” I says. “You’ve been away from here since three oclock. Mr Earl was just back here looking for you.”

“I been tendin to my business,” he says. “Mr Earl knows whar I been.”

“You may can fool him,” I says. “I wont tell on you.”

“Den he’s de onliest man here I’d try to fool,” he says. “Whut I want to waste my time foolin a man whut I dont keer whether I sees him Sat’dy night er not? I wont try to fool you,” he says. “You too smart fer me. Yes, suh,” he says, looking busy as hell, putting five or six little packages into the wagon, “You’s too smart fer me. Aint a man in dis town kin keep up wid you fer smartness. You fools a man whut so smart he cant even keep up wid hisself,” he says, getting in the wagon and unwrapping the reins.

“Who’s that?” I says.

“Dat’s Mr Jason Compson,” he says. “Git up dar, Dan!”

One of the wheels was just about to come off. I watched to see if he’d get out of the alley before it did. Just turn any vehicle over to a nigger, though. I says that old rattletrap’s just an eyesore, yet you’ll keep it standing there in the carriage house a hundred years just so that boy can ride to the cemetery once a week. I says he’s not the first fellow that’ll have to do things he doesn’t want to. I’d make him ride in that car like a civilised man or stay at home. What does he know about where he goes or what he goes in, and us keeping a carriage and a horse so he can take a ride on Sunday afternoon.

A lot Job cared whether the wheel came off or not, long as he wouldn’t have too far to walk back. Like I say the only place for them is in the field, where they’d have to work from sunup to sundown. They cant stand prosperity or an easy job. Let one stay around white people for a while and he’s not worth killing. They get so they can outguess you about work before your very eyes, like Roskus the only mistake he ever made was he got careless one day and died. Shirking and stealing and giving you a little more lip and a little more lip until some day you have to lay them out with a scantling or something. Well, it’s Earl’s business. But I’d hate to have my business advertised over this town by an old doddering nigger and a wagon that you thought every time it turned a corner it would come all to pieces.

The sun was all high up in the air now, and inside it was beginning to get dark. I went up front. The square was empty. Earl was back closing the safe, and then the clock begun to strike.

“You lock the back door,” he says. I went back and locked it and came back. “I suppose you’re going to the show tonight,” he says. “I gave you those passes yesterday, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” I said. “You want them back?”

“No, no,” he says, “I just forgot whether I gave them to you or not. No sense in wasting them.”

He locked the door and said Goodnight and went on. The sparrows were still rattling away in the trees, but the square was empty except for a few cars. There was a ford in front of the drugstore, but I didn’t even look at it. I know when I’ve had enough of anything. I dont mind trying to help her, but I know when I’ve had enough. I guess I could teach Luster to drive it, then they could chase her all day long if they wanted to, and I could stay home and play with Ben.

I went in and got a couple of cigars. Then I thought I’d have another headache shot for luck, and I stood and talked with them awhile.

“Well,” Mac says, “I reckon you’ve got your money on the Yankees this year.”

“What for?” I says.

“The Pennant,” he says. “Not anything in the League can beat them.”

“Like hell there’s not,” I says. “They’re shot,” I says. “You think a team can be that lucky forever?”

“I dont call it luck,” Mac says.

“I wouldn’t bet on any team that fellow Ruth played on,” I says. “Even if I knew it was going to win.”

“Yes?” Mac says.

“I can name you a dozen men in either League who’re more valuable than he is,” I says.

“What have you got against Ruth?” Mac says.

“Nothing,” I says. “I haven’t got any thing against him. I dont even like to look at his picture.” I went on out. The lights were coming on, and people going along the streets toward home. Sometimes the sparrows never got still until full dark. The night they turned on the new lights around the courthouse it waked them up and they were flying around and blundering into the lights all night long. They kept it up two or three nights, then one morning they were all gone. Then after about two months they all came back again.

I drove on home. There were no lights in the house yet, but they’d all be looking out the windows, and Dilsey jawing away in the kitchen like it was her own food she was having to keep hot until I got there. You’d think to hear her that there wasn’t but one supper in the world, and that was the one she had to keep back a few minutes on my account. Well at least I could come home one time without finding Ben and that nigger hanging on the gate like a bear and a monkey in the same cage. Just let it come toward sundown and he’d head for the gate like a cow for the barn, hanging onto it and bobbing his head and sort of moaning to himself. That’s a hog for punishment for you. If what had happened to him for fooling with open gates had happened to me, I never would want to see another one. I often wondered what he’d be thinking about, down there at the gate, watching the girls going home from school, trying to want something he couldn’t even remember he didn’t and couldn’t want any longer. And what he’d think when they’d be undressing him and he’d happen to take a look at himself and begin to cry like he’d do. But like I say they never did enough of that. I says I know what you need, you need what they did to Ben then you’d behave. And if you dont know what that was I says, ask Dilsey to tell you.

There was a light in Mother’s room. I put the car up and went on into the kitchen. Luster and Ben were there.

“Where’s Dilsey?” I says. “Putting supper on?”

“She upstairs wid Miss Cahline,” Luster says. “Dey been goin hit. Ever since Miss Quentin come home. Mammy up there keepin um fom fightin. Is dat show come, Mr Jason?”

“Yes,” I says.

“I thought I heard de band,” he says. “Wish I could go,” he says. “I could ef I jes had a quarter.”

Dilsey came in. “You come, is you?” she says. “Whut you been up to dis evenin? You knows how much work I got to do; whyn’t you git here on time?”

“Maybe I went to the show,” I says. “Is supper ready?”

“Wish I could go,” Luster said. “I could ef I jes had a quarter.”

“You aint got no business at no show,” Dilsey says. “You go on in de house and set down,” she says. “Dont you go up stairs and get um started again, now.”

“What’s the matter?” I says.

“Quentin come in a while ago and says you been follerin her around all evenin and den Miss Cahline jumped on her. Whyn’t you let her alone? Cant you live in de same house wid you own blood niece widout quoilin?”

“I cant quarrel with her,” I says, “because I haven’t seen her since this morning. What does she say I’ve done now? made her go to school? That’s pretty bad,” I says.

“Well, you tend to yo business and let her alone,” Dilsey says, “I’ll take keer of her ef you’n Miss Cahline’ll let me. Go on in dar now and behave yoself twell I git supper on.”

“If I jes had a quarter,” Luster says, “I could go to dat show.”

“En ef you had wings you could fly to heaven,” Dilsey says. “I dont want to hear another word about dat show.”

“That reminds me,” I says, “I’ve got a couple of tickets they gave me.” I took them out of my coat.

“You fixin to use um?” Luster says.

“Not me,” I says. “I wouldn’t go to it for ten dollars.”

“Gimme one of um, Mr Jason,” he says.

“I’ll sell you one,” I says. “How about it?”

“I aint got no money,” he says.

“That’s too bad,” I says. I made to go out.

“Gimme one of um, Mr Jason,” he says. “You aint gwine need um bofe.”

“Hush yo mouf,” Dilsey says, “Dont you know he aint gwine give nothing away?”

“How much you want fer hit?” he says.

“Five cents,” I says.

“I aint got dat much,” he says.

“How much you got?” I says.

“I aint got nothing,” he says.

“All right,” I says. I went on.

“Mr Jason,” he says.

“Whyn’t you hush up?” Dilsey says. “He jes teasin you. He fixin to use dem tickets hisself. Go on, Jason, and let him lone.”

“I dont want them,” I says. I came back to the stove. “I came in here to burn them up. But if you want to buy one for a nickel?” I says, looking at him and opening the stove lid.

“I aint got dat much,” he says.

“All right,” I says. I dropped one of them in the stove.

“You, Jason,” Dilsey says, “Aint you shamed?”

“Mr Jason,” he says, “Please, suh. I’ll fix dem tires ev’ry day fer a mont’.”

“I need the cash,” I says. “You can have it for a nickel.”

“Hush, Luster,” Dilsey says. She jerked him back. “Go on,” she says, “Drop hit in. Go on. Git hit over with.”

“You can have it for a nickel,” I says.

“Go on,” Dilsey says. “He aint got no nickel. Go on. Drop hit in.”

“All right,” I says. I dropped it in and Dilsey shut the stove.

“A big growed man like you,” she says. “Git on outen my kitchen. Hush,” she says to Luster. “Dont you git Benjy started. I’ll git you a quarter from Frony tonight and you kin go tomorrow night. Hush up, now.”

I went on into the living room. I couldn’t hear anything from upstairs. I opened the paper. After awhile Ben and Luster came in. Ben went to the dark place on the wall where the mirror used to be, rubbing his hands on it and slobbering and moaning. Luster begun punching at the fire.

“What’re you doing?” I says. “We dont need any fire tonight.”

“I trying to keep him quiet,” he says. “Hit always cold Easter,” he says.

“Only this is not Easter,” I says. “Let it alone.”

He put the poker back and got the cushion out of Mother’s chair and gave it to Ben, and he hunkered down in front of the fireplace and got quiet.

I read the paper. There hadn’t been a sound from upstairs when Dilsey came in and sent Ben and Luster on to the kitchen and said supper was ready.

“All right,” I says. She went out. I sat there, reading the paper. After a while I heard Dilsey looking in at the door.

“Whyn’t you come on and eat?” she says.

“I’m waiting for supper,” I says.

“Hit’s on the table,” she says. “I done told you.”

“Is it?” I says. “Excuse me. I didn’t hear anybody come down.”

“They aint comin,” she says. “You come on and eat, so I can take something up to them.”

“Are they sick?” I says. “What did the doctor say it was? Not Smallpox, I hope.”

“Come on here, Jason,” she says, “So I kin git done.”

“All right,” I says, raising the paper again. “I’m waiting for supper now.”

I could feel her watching me at the door. I read the paper.

“Whut you want to ack like this fer?” she says. “When you knows how much bother I has anyway.”

“If Mother is any sicker than she was when she came down to dinner, all right,” I says. “But as long as I am buying food for people younger than I am, they’ll have to come down to the table to eat it. Let me know when supper’s ready,” I says, reading the paper again. I heard her climbing the stairs, dragging her feet and grunting and groaning like they were straight up and three feet apart. I heard her at Mother’s door, then I heard her calling Quentin, like the door was locked, then she went back to Mother’s room and then Mother went and talked to Quentin. Then they came down stairs. I read the paper.

Dilsey came back to the door. “Come on,” she says, “fo you kin think up some mo devilment. You just tryin yoself tonight.”

I went to the diningroom. Quentin was sitting with her head bent. She had painted her face again. Her nose looked like a porcelain insulator.

“I’m glad you feel well enough to come down,” I says to Mother.

“It’s little enough I can do for you, to come to the table,” she says. “No matter how I feel. I realise that when a man works all day he likes to be surrounded by his family at the supper table. I want to please you. I only wish you and Quentin got along better. It would be easier for me.”

“We get along all right,” I says. “I dont mind her staying locked up in her room all day if she wants to. But I cant have all this whoop-de-do and sulking at mealtimes. I know that’s a lot to ask her, but I’m that way in my own house. Your house, I meant to say.”

“It’s yours,” Mother says, “You are the head of it now.”

Quentin hadn’t looked up. I helped the plates and she begun to eat.

“Did you get a good piece of meat?” I says. “If you didn’t, I’ll try to find you a better one.”

She didn’t say anything.

“I say, did you get a good piece of meat?” I says.

“What?” she says. “Yes. It’s all right.”

“Will you have some more rice?” I says.

“No,” she says.

“Better let me give you some more,” I says.

“I dont want any more,” she says.

“Not at all,” I says, “You’re welcome.”

“Is your headache gone?” Mother says.

“Headache?” I says.

“I was afraid you were developing one,” she says. “When you came in this afternoon.”

“Oh,” I says. “No, it didn’t show up. We stayed so busy this afternoon I forgot about it.”

“Was that why you were late?” Mother says. I could see Quentin listening. I looked at her. Her knife and fork were still going, but I caught her looking at me, then she looked at her plate again. I says,

“No. I loaned my car to a fellow about three o’clock and I had to wait until he got back with it.” I ate for a while.

“Who was it?” Mother says.

“It was one of those show men,” I says. “It seems his sister’s husband was out riding with some town woman, and he was chasing them.”

Quentin sat perfectly still, chewing.

“You ought not to lend your car to people like that,” Mother says. “You are too generous with it. That’s why I never call on you for it if I can help it.”

“I was beginning to think that myself, for awhile,” I says. “But he got back, all right. He says he found what he was looking for.”

“Who was the woman?” Mother says.

“I’ll tell you later,” I says. “I dont like to talk about such things before Quentin.”

Quentin had quit eating. Every once in a while she’d take a drink of water, then she’d sit there crumbling a biscuit up, her face bent over her plate.

“Yes,” Mother says, “I suppose women who stay shut up like I do have no idea what goes on in this town.”

“Yes,” I says, “They dont.”

“My life has been so different from that,” Mother says. “Thank God I dont know about such wickedness. I dont even want to know about it. I’m not like most people.”

I didn’t say any more. Quentin sat there, crumbling the biscuit until I quit eating, then she says,

“Can I go now?” without looking at anybody.

“What?” I says. “Sure, you can go. Were you waiting on us?”

She looked at me. She had crumbled all the biscuit, but her hands still went on like they were crumbling it yet and her eyes looked like they were cornered or something and then she started biting her mouth like it ought to have poisoned her, with all that red lead.

“Grandmother,” she says, “Grandmother—”

“Did you want something else to eat?” I says.

“Why does he treat me like this, Grandmother?” she says. “I never hurt him.”

“I want you all to get along with one another,” Mother says, “You are all that’s left now, and I do want you all to get along better.”

“It’s his fault,” she says, “He wont let me alone, and I have to. If he doesn’t want me here, why wont he let me go back to—”

“That’s enough,” I says, “Not another word.”

“Then why wont he let me alone?” she says. “He—he just—”

“He is the nearest thing to a father you’ve ever had,” Mother says. “It’s his bread you and I eat. It’s only right that he should expect obedience from you.”

“It’s his fault,” she says. She jumped up. “He makes me do it. If he would just—” she looked at us, her eyes cornered, kind of jerking her arms against her sides.

“If I would just what?” I says.

“Whatever I do, it’s your fault,” she says. “If I’m bad, it’s because I had to be. You made me. I wish I was dead. I wish we were all dead.” Then she ran. We heard her run up the stairs. Then a door slammed.

“That’s the first sensible thing she ever said,” I says.

“She didn’t go to school today,” Mother says.

“How do you know?” I says. “Were you down town?”

“I just know,” she says. “I wish you could be kinder to her.”

“If I did that I’d have to arrange to see her more than once a day,” I says. “You’ll have to make her come to the table every meal. Then I could give her an extra piece of meat every time.”

“There are little things you could do,” she says.

“Like not paying any attention when you ask me to see that she goes to school?” I says.

“She didn’t go to school today,” she says. “I just know she didn’t. She says she went for a car ride with one of the boys this afternoon and you followed her.”

“How could I,” I says, “When somebody had my car all afternoon? Whether or not she was in school today is already past,” I says, “If you’ve got to worry about it, worry about next Monday.”

“I wanted you and she to get along with one another,” she says. “But she has inherited all of the headstrong traits. Quentin’s too. I thought at the time, with the heritage she would already have, to give her that name, too. Sometimes I think she is the judgment of Caddy and Quentin upon me.”

“Good Lord,” I says, “You’ve got a fine mind. No wonder you kept yourself sick all the time.”

“What?” she says. “I dont understand.”

“I hope not,” I says. “A good woman misses a lot she’s better off without knowing.”

“They were both that way,” she says, “They would make interest with your father against me when I tried to correct them. He was always saying they didn’t need controlling, that they already knew what cleanliness and honesty were, which was all that anyone could hope to be taught. And now I hope he’s satisfied.”

“You’ve got Ben to depend on,” I says, “Cheer up.”

“They deliberately shut me out of their lives,” she says, “It was always her and Quentin. They were always conspiring against me. Against you too, though you were too young to realise it. They always looked on you and me as outsiders, like they did your Uncle Maury. I always told your father that they were allowed too much freedom, to be together too much. When Quentin started to school we had to let her go the next year, so she could be with him. She couldn’t bear for any of you to do anything she couldn’t. It was vanity in her, vanity and false pride. And then when her troubles began I knew that Quentin would feel that he had to do something just as bad. But I didn’t believe that he would have been so selfish as to—I didn’t dream that he—”

“Maybe he knew it was going to be a girl,” I says, “And that one more of them would be more than he could stand.”

“He could have controlled her,” she says. “He seemed to be the only person she had any consideration for. But that is a part of the judgment too, I suppose.”

“Yes,” I says, “Too bad it wasn’t me instead of him. You’d be a lot better off.”

“You say things like that to hurt me,” she says. “I deserve it though. When they began to sell the land to send Quentin to Harvard I told your father that he must make an equal provision for you. Then when Herbert offered to take you into the bank I said, Jason is provided for now, and when all the expense began to pile up and I was forced to sell our furniture and the rest of the pasture, I wrote her at once because I said she will realise that she and Quentin have had their share and part of Jason’s too and that it depends on her now to compensate him. I said she will do that out of respect for her father. I believed that, then. But I’m just a poor old woman; I was raised to believe that people would deny themselves for their own flesh and blood. It’s my fault. You were right to reproach me.”

“Do you think I need any man’s help to stand on my feet?” I says, “Let alone a woman that cant name the father of her own child.”

“Jason,” she says.

“All right,” I says. “I didn’t mean that. Of course not.”

“If I believed that were possible, after all my suffering.”

“Of course it’s not,” I says. “I didn’t mean it.”

“I hope that at least is spared me,” she says.

“Sure it is,” I says, “She’s too much like both of them to doubt that.”

“I couldn’t bear that,” she says.

“Then quit thinking about it,” I says. “Has she been worrying you any more about getting out at night?”

“No. I made her realise that it was for her own good and that she’d thank me for it some day. She takes her books with her and studies after I lock the door. I see the light on as late as eleven oclock some nights.”

“How do you know she’s studying?” I says.

“I don’t know what else she’d do in there alone,” she says. “She never did read any.”

“No,” I says, “You wouldn’t know. And you can thank your stars for that,” I says. Only what would be the use in saying it aloud. It would just have her crying on me again.

I heard her go up stairs. Then she called Quentin and Quentin says What? through the door. “Goodnight,” Mother says. Then I heard the key in the lock, and Mother went back to her room.

When I finished my cigar and went up, the light was still on. I could see the empty keyhole, but I couldn’t hear a sound. She studied quiet. Maybe she learned that in school. I told Mother goodnight and went on to my room and got the box out and counted it again. I could hear the Great American Gelding snoring away like a planing mill. I read somewhere they’d fix men that way to give them women’s voices. But maybe he didn’t know what they’d done to him. I dont reckon he even knew what he had been trying to do, or why Mr Burgess knocked him out with the fence picket. And if they’d just sent him on to Jackson while he was under the ether, he’d never have known the difference. But that would have been too simple for a Compson to think of. Not half complex enough. Having to wait to do it at all until he broke out and tried to run a little girl down on the street with her own father looking at him. Well, like I say they never started soon enough with their cutting, and they quit too quick. I know at least two more that needed something like that, and one of them not over a mile away, either. But then I dont reckon even that would do any good. Like I say once a bitch always a bitch. And just let me have twenty-four hours without any damn New York jew to advise me what it’s going to do. I dont want to make a killing; save that to suck in the smart gamblers with. I just want an even chance to get my money back. And once I’ve done that they can bring all Beale Street and all bedlam in here and two of them can sleep in my bed and another one can have my place at the table too.

APRIL 8, 1928

The day dawned bleak and chill. A moving wall of grey light out of the northeast which, instead of dissolving into moisture, seemed to disintegrate into minute and venomous particles, like dust that, when Dilsey opened the door of the cabin and emerged, needled laterally into her flesh, precipitating not so much a moisture as a substance partaking of the quality of thin, not quite congealed oil. She wore a stiff black straw hat perched upon her turban, and a maroon velvet cape with a border of mangy and anonymous fur above a dress of purple silk, and she stood in the door for awhile with her myriad and sunken face lifted to the weather, and one gaunt hand flac-soled as the belly of a fish, then she moved the cape aside and examined the bosom of her gown.

The gown fell gauntly from her shoulders, across her fallen breasts, then tightened upon her paunch and fell again, ballooning a little above the nether garments which she would remove layer by layer as the spring accomplished and the warm days, in colour regal and moribund. She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts, and above that the collapsed face that gave the impression of the bones themselves being outside the flesh, lifted into the driving day with an expression at once fatalistic and of a child’s astonished disappointment, until she turned and entered the house again and closed the door.

The earth immediately about the door was bare. It had a patina, as though from the soles of bare feet in generations, like old silver or the walls of Mexican houses which have been plastered by hand. Beside the house, shading it in summer, stood three mulberry trees, the fledged leaves that would later be broad and placid as the palms of hands streaming flatly undulant upon the driving air. A pair of jaybirds came up from nowhere, whirled up on the blast like gaudy scraps of cloth or paper and lodged in the mulberries, where they swung in raucous tilt and recover, screaming into the wind that ripped their harsh cries onward and away like scraps of paper or of cloth in turn. Then three more joined them and they swung and tilted in the wrung branches for a time, screaming. The door of the cabin opened and Dilsey emerged once more, this time in a man’s felt hat and an army overcoat, beneath the frayed skirts of which her blue gingham dress fell in uneven balloonings, streaming too about her as she crossed the yard and mounted the steps to the kitchen door.

A moment later she emerged, carrying an open umbrella now, which she slanted ahead into the wind, and crossed to the woodpile and laid the umbrella down, still open. Immediately she caught at it and arrested it and held to it for a while, looking about her. Then she closed it and laid it down and stacked stovewood into her crooked arm, against her breast, and picked up the umbrella and got it open at last and returned to the steps and held the wood precariously balanced while she contrived to close the umbrella, which she propped in the corner just within the door. She dumped the wood into the box behind the stove. Then she removed the overcoat and hat and took a soiled apron down from the wall and put it on and built a fire in the stove. While she was doing so, rattling the grate bars and clattering the lids, Mrs Compson began to call her from the head of the stairs.

She wore a dressing gown of quilted black satin, holding it close under her chin. In the other hand she held a red rubber hot water bottle and she stood at the head of the back stairway, calling “Dilsey” at steady and inflectionless intervals into the quiet stairwell that descended into complete darkness, then opened again where a grey window fell across it. “Dilsey,” she called, without inflection or emphasis or haste, as though she were not listening for a reply at all. “Dilsey.”

Dilsey answered and ceased clattering the stove, but before she could cross the kitchen Mrs Compson called her again, and before she crossed the diningroom and brought her head into relief against the grey splash of the window, still again.

“All right,” Dilsey said, “All right, here I is. I’ll fill hit soon ez I git some hot water.” She gathered up her skirts and mounted the stairs, wholly blotting the grey light. “Put hit down dar en g’awn back to bed.”

“I couldn’t understand what was the matter,” Mrs Compson said. “I’ve been lying awake for an hour at least, without hearing a sound from the kitchen.”

“You put hit down and g’awn back to bed,” Dilsey said. She toiled painfully up the steps, shapeless, breathing heavily. “I’ll have de fire gwine in a minute, en de water hot in two mo.”

“I’ve been lying there for an hour, at least,” Mrs Compson said. “I thought maybe you were waiting for me to come down and start the fire.”

Dilsey reached the top of the stairs and took the water bottle. “I’ll fix hit in a minute,” she said. “Luster overslep dis mawnin, up half de night at dat show. I gwine build de fire myself. Go on now, so you wont wake de others twell I ready.”

“If you permit Luster to do things that interfere with his work, you’ll have to suffer for it yourself,” Mrs Compson said. “Jason wont like this if he hears about it. You know he wont.”

“Twusn’t none of Jason’s money he went on,” Dilsey said. “Dat’s one thing sho.” She went on down the stairs. Mrs Compson returned to her room. As she got into bed again she could hear Dilsey yet descending the stairs with a sort of painful and terrific slowness that would have become maddening had it not presently ceased beyond the flapping diminishment of the pantry door.

She entered the kitchen and built up the fire and began to prepare breakfast. In the midst of this she ceased and went to the window and looked out toward her cabin, then she went to the door and opened it and shouted into the driving weather.

“Luster!” she shouted, standing to listen, tilting her face from the wind, “You, Luster?” She listened, then as she prepared to shout again Luster appeared around the corner of the kitchen.

“Ma’am?” he said innocently, so innocently that Dilsey looked down at him, for a moment motionless with something more than mere surprise.

“Whar you at?” she said.

“Nowhere,” he said. “Jes in de cellar.”

“Whut you doin in de cellar?” she said. “Dont stand dar in de rain, fool,” she said.

“Aint doin nothin,” he said. He came up the steps.

“Dont you dare come in dis do widout a armful of wood,” she said. “Here I done had to tote yo wood en build yo fire bofe. Didn’t I tole you not to leave dis place last night befo dat woodbox wus full to de top?”

“I did,” Luster said, “I filled hit.”

“Whar hit gone to, den?”

“I dont know’m. I aint teched hit.”

“Well, you git hit full up now,” she said. “And git on up den en see bout Benjy.”

She shut the door. Luster went to the woodpile. The five jaybirds whirled over the house, screaming, and into the mulberries again. He watched them. He picked up a rock and threw it. “Whoo,” he said, “Git on back to hell, whar you belong at. Taint Monday yit.”

He loaded himself mountainously with stovewood. He could not see over it, and he staggered to the steps and up them and blundered crashing against the door, shedding billets. Then Dilsey came and opened the door for him and he blundered across the kitchen. “You, Luster!” she shouted, but he had already hurled the wood into the box with a thunderous crash. “H’h!” he said.

“Is you tryin to wake up de whole house?” Dilsey said. She hit him on the back of his head with the flat of her hand. “Go on up dar and git Benjy dressed, now.”

“Yessum,” he said. He went toward the outer door.

“Whar you gwine?” Dilsey said.

“I thought I better go round de house en in by de front, so I wont wake up Miss Cahline en dem.”

“You go on up dem backstairs like I tole you en git Benjy’s clothes on him,” Dilsey said. “Go on, now.”

“Yessum,” Luster said. He returned and left by the diningroom door. After awhile it ceased to flap. Dilsey prepared to make biscuit. As she ground the sifter steadily above the breadboard, she sang, to herself at first, something without particular tune or words, repetitive, mournful and plaintive, austere, as she ground a faint, steady snowing of flour onto the breadboard. The stove had begun to heat the room and to fill it with murmurous minors of the fire, and presently she was singing louder, as if her voice too had been thawed out by the growing warmth, and then Mrs Compson called her name again from within the house. Dilsey raised her face as if her eyes could and did penetrate the walls and ceiling and saw the old woman in her quilted dressing gown at the head of the stairs, calling her name with machinelike regularity.

“Oh, Lawd,” Dilsey said. She set the sifter down and swept up the hem of her apron and wiped her hands and caught up the bottle from the chair on which she had laid it and gathered her apron about the handle of the kettle which was now jetting faintly. “Jes a minute,” she called, “De water jes dis minute got hot.”

It was not the bottle which Mrs Compson wanted, however, and clutching it by the neck like a dead hen Dilsey went to the foot of the stairs and looked upward.

“Aint Luster up dar wid him?” she said.

“Luster hasn’t been in the house. I’ve been lying here listening for him. I knew he would be late, but I did hope he’d come in time to keep Benjamin from disturbing Jason on Jason’s one day in the week to sleep in the morning.”

“I dont see how you expect anybody to sleep, wid you standin in de hall, holl’in at folks fum de crack of dawn,” Dilsey said. She began to mount the stairs, toiling heavily. “I sont dat boy up dar half hour ago.”

Mrs Compson watched her, holding the dressing gown under her chin. “What are you going to do?” she said.

“Gwine git Benjy dressed en bring him down to de kitchen, whar he wont wake Jason en Quentin,” Dilsey said.

“Haven’t you started breakfast yet?”

“I’ll tend to dat too,” Dilsey said. “You better git back in bed twell Luster make yo fire. Hit cold dis mawnin.”

“I know it,” Mrs Compson said. “My feet are like ice. They were so cold they waked me up.” She watched Dilsey mount the stairs. It took her a long while. “You know how it frets Jason when breakfast is late,” Mrs Compson said.

“I cant do but one thing at a time,” Dilsey said. “You git on back to bed, fo I has you on my hands dis mawnin too.”

“If you’re going to drop everything to dress Benjamin, I’d better come down and get breakfast. You know as well as I do how Jason acts when it’s late.”

“En who gwine eat yo messin?” Dilsey said. “Tell me dat. Go on now,” she said, toiling upward. Mrs Compson stood watching her as she mounted, steadying herself against the wall with one hand, holding her skirts up with the other.

“Are you going to wake him up just to dress him?” she said.

Dilsey stopped. With her foot lifted to the next step she stood there, her hand against the wall and the grey splash of the window behind her, motionless and shapeless she loomed.

“He aint awake den?” she said.

“He wasn’t when I looked in,” Mrs Compson said. “But it’s past his time. He never does sleep after half past seven. You know he doesn’t.”

Dilsey said nothing. She made no further move, but though she could not see her save as a blobby shape without depth, Mrs Compson knew that she had lowered her face a little and that she stood now like a cow in the rain, as she held the empty water bottle by its neck.

“You’re not the one who has to bear it,” Mrs Compson said. “It’s not your responsibility. You can go away. You dont have to bear the brunt of it day in and day out. You owe nothing to them, to Mr Compson’s memory. I know you have never had any tenderness for Jason. You’ve never tried to conceal it.”

Dilsey said nothing. She turned slowly and descended, lowering her body from step to step, as a small child does, her hand against the wall. “You go on and let him alone,” she said. “Dont go in dar no mo, now. I’ll send Luster up soon as I find him. Let him alone, now.”

She returned to the kitchen. She looked into the stove, then she drew her apron over her head and donned the overcoat and opened the outer door and looked up and down the yard. The weather drove upon her flesh, harsh and minute, but the scene was empty of all else that moved. She descended the steps, gingerly, as if for silence, and went around the corner of the kitchen. As she did so Luster emerged quickly and innocently from the cellar door.

Dilsey stopped. “Whut you up to?” she said.

“Nothin,” Luster said, “Mr Jason say fer me to find out what dat Water leak in de cellar fum.”

“En when wus hit he say fer you to do dat?” Dilsey said. “Last New Year’s day, wasn’t hit?”

“I thought I jes be lookin whiles dey sleep,” Luster said. Dilsey went to the cellar door. He stood aside and she peered down into the obscurity odorous of dank earth and mould and rubber.

“Huh,” Dilsey said. She looked at Luster again. He met her gaze blandly, innocent and open. “I dont know whut you up to, but you aint got no business doin hit. You jes tryin me too dis mawnin cause de others is, aint you? You git on up dar en see to Benjy, you hear?”

“Yessum,” Luster said. He went on toward the kitchen steps, swiftly.

“Here,” Dilsey said, “You git me another armful of wood while I got you.”

“Yessum,” he said. He passed her on the steps and went to the woodpile. When he blundered again at the door a moment later, again invisible and blind within and beyond his wooden avatar, Dilsey opened the door and guided him across the kitchen with a firm hand.

“Jes thow hit at dat box again,” she said, “Jes thow hit.”

“I got to,” Luster said, panting, “I cant put hit down no other way.”

“Den you stand dar en hold hit a while,” Dilsey said. She unloaded him a stick at a time. “Whut got into you dis mawnin? Here I sont you fer wood en you aint never brought mo’n six sticks at a time to save yo life twell today. Whut you fixin to ax me kin you do now? Aint dat show lef town yit?”

“Yessum. Hit done gone.”

She put the last stick into the box. “Now you go on up dar wid Benjy, like I tole you befo,” she said. “And I dont want nobody else yellin down dem stairs at me twell I rings de bell. You hear me.”

“Yessum,” Luster said. He vanished through the swing door. Dilsey put some more wood in the stove and returned to the breadboard. Presently she began to sing again.

The room grew warmer. Soon Dilsey’s skin had taken on a rich, lustrous quality as compared with that as of a faint dusting of wood ashes which both it and Luster’s had worn, as she moved about the kitchen, gathering about her the raw materials of food, coordinating the meal. On the wall above a cupboard, invisible save at night, by lamp light and even then evincing an enigmatic profundity because it had but one hand, a cabinet clock ticked, then with a preliminary sound as if it had cleared its throat, struck five times.

“Eight oclock,” Dilsey said. She ceased and tilted her head upward, listening. But there was no sound save the clock and the fire. She opened the oven and looked at the pan of bread, then stooping she paused while someone descended the stairs. She heard the feet cross the diningroom, then the swing door opened and Luster entered, followed by a big man who appeared to have been shaped of some substance whose particles would not or did not cohere to one another or to the frame which supported it. His skin was dead looking and hairless; dropsical too, he moved with a shambling gait like a trained bear. His hair was pale and fine. It had been brushed smoothly down upon his brow like that of children in daguerreotypes. His eyes were clear, of the pale sweet blue of cornflowers, his thick mouth hung open, drooling a little.

“Is he cold?” Dilsey said. She wiped her hands on her apron and touched his hand.

“Ef he aint, I is,” Luster said. “Always cold Easter. Aint never seen hit fail. Miss Cahline say ef you aint got time to fix her hot water bottle to never mind about hit.”

“Oh, Lawd,” Dilsey said. She drew a chair into the corner between the woodbox and the stove. The man went obediently and sat in it. “Look in de dinin room and see whar I laid dat bottle down,” Dilsey said. Luster fetched the bottle from the diningroom and Dilsey filled it and gave it to him. “Hurry up, now,” she said. “See ef Jason wake now. Tell em hit’s all ready.”

Luster went out. Ben sat beside the stove. He sat loosely, utterly motionless save for his head, which made a continual bobbing sort of movement as he watched Dilsey with his sweet vague gaze as she moved about. Luster returned.

“He up,” he said, “Miss Cahline say put hit on de table.” He came to the stove and spread his hands palm down above the firebox. “He up, too,” He said, “Gwine hit wid bofe feet dis mawnin.”

“Whut’s de matter now?” Dilsey said. “Git away fum dar. How kin I do anything wid you standin over de stove?”

“I cold,” Luster said.

“You ought to thought about dat whiles you wus down dar in dat cellar,” Dilsey said. “Whut de matter wid Jason?”

“Sayin me en Benjy broke dat winder in his room.”

“Is dey one broke?” Dilsey said.

“Dat’s whut he sayin,” Luster said. “Say I broke hit.”

“How could you, when he keep hit locked all day en night?”

“Say I broke hit chunkin rocks at hit,” Luster said.

“En did you?”

“Nome,” Luster said.

“Dont lie to me, boy,” Dilsey said.

“I never done hit,” Luster said. “Ask Benjy ef I did. I aint stud’in dat winder.”

“Who could a broke hit, den?” Dilsey said. “He jes tryin hisself, to wake Quentin up,” she said, taking the pan of biscuits out of the stove.

“Reckin so,” Luster said. “Dese is funny folks. Glad I aint none of em.”

“Aint none of who?” Dilsey said. “Lemme tell you somethin, nigger boy, you got jes es much Compson devilment in you es any of em. Is you right sho you never broke dat window?”

“Whut I want to break hit fur?”

“Whut you do any of you devilment fur?” Dilsey said. “Watch him now, so he cant burn his hand again twell I git de table set.”

She went to the diningroom, where they heard her moving about, then she returned and set a plate at the kitchen table and set food there. Ben watched her, slobbering, making a faint, eager sound.

“All right, honey,” she said, “Here yo breakfast. Bring his chair, Luster.” Luster moved the chair up and Ben sat down, whimpering and slobbering. Dilsey tied a cloth about his neck and wiped his mouth with the end of it. “And see kin you kep fum messin up his clothes one time,” she said, handing Luster a spoon.

Ben ceased whimpering. He watched the spoon as it rose to his mouth. It was as if even eagerness were muscle-bound in him too, and hunger itself inarticulate, not knowing it is hunger. Luster fed him with skill and detachment. Now and then his attention would return long enough to enable him to feint the spoon and cause Ben to close his mouth upon the empty air, but it was apparent that Luster’s mind was elsewhere. His other hand lay on the back of the chair and upon that dead surface it moved tentatively, delicately, as if he were picking an inaudible tune out of the dead void, and once he even forgot to tease Ben with the spoon while his fingers teased out of the slain wood a soundless and involved arpeggio until Ben recalled him by whimpering again.

In the diningroom Dilsey moved back and forth. Presently she rang a small clear bell, then in the kitchen Luster heard Mrs Compson and Jason descending, and Jason’s voice, and he rolled his eyes whitely with listening.

“Sure, I know they didn’t break it,” Jason said. “Sure, I know that. Maybe the change of weather broke it.”

“I dont see how it could have,” Mrs Compson said. “Your room stays locked all day long, just as you leave it when you go to town. None of us ever go in there except Sunday, to clean it. I dont want you to think that I would go where I’m not wanted, or that I would permit anyone else to.”

“I never said you broke it, did I?” Jason said.

“I dont want to go in your room,” Mrs Compson said. “I respect anybody’s private affairs. I wouldn’t put my foot over the threshold, even if I had a key.”

“Yes,” Jason said, “I know your keys wont fit. That’s why I had the lock changed. What I want to know is, how that window got broken.”

“Luster say he didn’t do hit,” Dilsey said.

“I knew that without asking him,” Jason said. “Where’s Quentin?” he said.

“Where she is ev’y Sunday mawnin,” Dilsey said. “Whut got into you de last few days, anyhow?”

“Well, we’re going to change all that,” Jason said. “Go up and tell her breakfast is ready.”

“You leave her alone now, Jason,” Dilsey said. “She gits up fer breakfast ev’y week mawnin, en Cahline lets her stay in bed ev’y Sunday. You knows dat.”

“I cant keep a kitchen full of niggers to wait on her pleasure, much as I’d like to,” Jason said. “Go and tell her to come down to breakfast.”

“Aint nobody have to wait on her,” Dilsey said. “I puts her breakfast in de warmer en she—”

“Did you hear me?” Jason said.

“I hears you,” Dilsey said. “All I been hearin, when you in de house. Ef hit aint Quentin er yo maw, hit’s Luster en Benjy. Whut you let him go on dat way fer, Miss Cahline?”

“You’d better do as he says,” Mrs Compson said, “He’s head of the house now. It’s his right to require us to respect his wishes. I try to do it, and if I can, you can too.”

“Taint no sense in him bein so bad tempered he got to make Quentin git up jes to suit him,” Dilsey said. “Maybe you think she broke dat window.”

“She would, if she happened to think of it,” Jason said. “You go and do what I told you.”

“En I wouldn’t blame her none ef she did,” Dilsey said, going toward the stairs. “Wid you naggin at her all de blessed time yo in de house.”

“Hush, Dilsey,” Mrs Compson said, “It’s neither your place nor mine to tell Jason what to do. Sometimes I think he is wrong, but I try to obey his wishes for you alls’ sakes. If I’m strong enough to come to the table, Quentin can too.”

Dilsey went out. They heard her mounting the stairs. They heard her a long while on the stairs.

“You’ve got a prize set of servants,” Jason said. He helped his mother and himself to food. “Did you ever have one that was worth killing? You must have had some before I was big enough to remember.”

“I have to humour them,” Mrs Compson said. “I have to depend on them so completely. It’s not as if I were strong. I wish I were. I wish I could do all the house work myself. I could at least take that much off your shoulders.”

“And a fine pigsty we’d live in, too,” Jason said. “Hurry up, Dilsey,” he shouted.

“I know you blame me,” Mrs Compson said, “for letting them off to go to church today.”

“Go where?” Jason said. “Hasn’t that damn show left yet?”

“To church,” Mrs Compson said. “The darkies are having a special Easter service. I promised Dilsey two weeks ago that they could get off.”

“Which means we’ll eat cold dinner,” Jason said, “or none at all.”

“I know it’s my fault,” Mrs Compson said. “I know you blame me.”

“For what?” Jason said. “You never resurrected Christ, did you?”

They heard Dilsey mount the final stair, then her slow feet overhead.

“Quentin,” she said. When she called the first time Jason laid his knife and fork down and he and his mother appeared to wait across the table from one another, in identical attitudes; the one cold and shrewd, with close-thatched brown hair curled into two stubborn hooks, one on either side of his forehead like a bartender in caricature, and hazel eyes with black-ringed irises like marbles, the other cold and querulous, with perfectly white hair and eyes pouched and baffled and so dark as to appear to be all pupil or all iris.

“Quentin,” Dilsey said, “Git up, honey. Dey waitin breakfast on you.”

“I cant understand how that window got broken,” Mrs Compson said. “Are you sure it was done yesterday? It could have been like that a long time, with the warm weather. The upper sash, behind the shade like that.”

“I’ve told you for the last time that it happened yesterday,” Jason said. “Dont you reckon I know the room I live in? Do you reckon I could have lived in it a week with a hole in the window you could stick your hand—” his voice ceased, ebbed, left him staring at his mother with eyes that for an instant were quite empty of anything. It was as though his eyes were holding their breath, while his mother looked at him, her face flaccid and querulous, interminable, clairvoyant yet obtuse. As they sat so Dilsey said,

“Quentin. Dont play wid me, honey. Come on to breakfast, honey. Dey waitin fer you.”

“I cant understand it,” Mrs Compson said, “It’s just as if somebody had tried to break into the house—” Jason sprang up. His chair crashed over backward. “What—” Mrs Compson said, staring at him as he ran past her and went jumping up the stairs, where he met Dilsey. His face was now in shadow, and Dilsey said,

“She sullin. Yo ma aint unlocked—” But Jason ran on past her and along the corridor to a door. He didn’t call. He grasped the knob and tried it, then he stood with the knob in his hand and his head bent a little, as if he were listening to something much further away than the dimensioned room beyond the door, and which he already heard. His attitude was that of one who goes through the motions of listening in order to deceive himself as to what he already hears. Behind him Mrs Compson mounted the stairs, calling his name. Then she saw Dilsey and she quit calling him and began to call Dilsey instead.

“I told you she aint unlocked dat do’ yit,” Dilsey said.

When she spoke he turned and ran toward her, but his voice was quiet, matter of fact. “She carry the key with her?” he said. “Has she got it now, I mean, or will she have—”

“Dilsey,” Mrs Compson said on the stairs.

“Is which?” Dilsey said. “Whyn’t you let—”

“The key,” Jason said, “To that room. Does she carry it with her all the time. Mother.” Then he saw Mrs Compson and he went down the stairs and met her. “Give me the key,” he said. He fell to pawing at the pockets of the rusty black dressing sacque she wore. She resisted.

“Jason,” she said, “Jason! Are you and Dilsey trying to put me to bed again?” she said, trying to fend him off, “Cant you even let me have Sunday in peace?”

“The key,” Jason said, pawing at her, “Give it here.” He looked back at the door, as if he expected it to fly open before he could get back to it with the key he did not have.

“You, Dilsey!” Mrs Compson said, clutching her sacque about her.

“Give me the key, you old fool!” Jason cried suddenly. From her pocket he tugged a huge bunch of rusted keys on an iron ring like a mediaeval jailer’s and ran back up the hall with the two women behind him.

“You, Jason!” Mrs Compson said. “He will never find the right one,” she said, “You know I never let anyone take my keys, Dilsey,” she said. She began to wail.

“Hush,” Dilsey said, “He aint gwine do nothin to her. I aint gwine let him.”

“But on Sunday morning, in my own house,” Mrs Compson said, “When I’ve tried so hard to raise them Christians. Let me find the right key, Jason,” she said. She put her hand on his arm. Then she began to struggle with him, but he flung her aside with a motion of his elbow and looked around at her for a moment, his eyes cold and harried, then he turned to the door again and the unwieldy keys.

“Hush,” Dilsey said, “You, Jason!”

“Something terrible has happened,” Mrs Compson said, wailing again, “I know it has. You, Jason,” she said, grasping at him again. “He wont even let me find the key to a room in my own house!”

“Now, now,” Dilsey said, “Whut kin happen? I right here. I aint gwine let him hurt her. Quentin,” she said, raising her voice, “Dont you be skeered, honey, I’se right here.”

The door opened, swung inward. He stood in it for a moment, hiding the room, then he stepped aside. “Go in,” he said in a thick, light voice. They went in. It was not a girl’s room. It was not anybody’s room, and the faint scent of cheap cosmetics and the few feminine objects and other evidences of crude and hopeless efforts to feminize it but added to its anonymity, giving it that dead and stereotyped transience of rooms in assignation houses. The bed had not been disturbed. On the floor lay a soiled undergarment of cheap silk a little too pink; from a half open bureau drawer dangled a single stocking. The window was open. A pear tree grew there, close against the house. It was in bloom and the branches scraped and rasped against the house and the myriad air, driving in the window, brought into the room the forlorn scent of the blossoms.

“Dar now,” Dilsey said, “Didn’t I told you she all right?”

“All right?” Mrs Compson said. Dilsey followed her into the room and touched her.

“You come on and lay down, now,” she said. “I find her in ten minutes.”

Mrs Compson shook her off. “Find the note,” she said. “Quentin left a note when he did it.”

“All right,” Dilsey said, “I’ll find hit. You come on to yo room, now.”

“I knew the minute they named her Quentin this would happen,” Mrs Compson said. She went to the bureau and began to turn over the scattered objects there—scent bottles, a box of powder, a chewed pencil, a pair of scissors with one broken blade lying upon a darned scarf dusted with powder and stained with rouge. “Find the note,” she said.

“I is,” Dilsey said. “You come on, now. Me and Jason’ll find hit. You come on to yo room.”

“Jason,” Mrs Compson said, “Where is he?” She went to the door. Dilsey followed her on down the hall, to another door. It was closed. “Jason,” she called through the door. There was no answer. She tried the knob, then she called him again. But there was still no answer, for he was hurling things backward out of the closet: garments, shoes, a suitcase. Then he emerged carrying a sawn section of tongue-and-groove planking and laid it down and entered the closet again and emerged with a metal box. He set it on the bed and stood looking at the broken lock while he dug a key ring from his pocket and selected a key, and for a time longer he stood with the selected key in his hand, looking at the broken lock, then he put the keys back in his pocket and carefully tilted the contents of the box out upon the bed. Still carefully he sorted the papers, taking them up one at a time and shaking them. Then he upended the box and shook it too and slowly replaced the papers and stood again, looking at the broken lock, with the box in his hands and his head bent. Outside the window he heard some jaybirds swirl shrieking past, and away, their cries whipping away along the wind, and an automobile passed somewhere and died away also. His mother spoke his name again beyond the door, but he didn’t move. He heard Dilsey lead her away up the hall, and then a door closed. Then he replaced the box in the closet and flung the garments back into it and went down stairs to the telephone. While he stood there with the receiver to his ear, waiting, Dilsey came down the stairs. She looked at him, without stopping, and went on.

The wire opened. “This is Jason Compson,” he said, his voice so harsh and thick that he had to repeat himself. “Jason Compson,” he said, controlling his voice. “Have a car ready, with a deputy, if you cant go, in ten minutes. I’ll be there—What?—Robbery. My house. I know who it—Robbery, I say. Have a car ready—What? Aren’t you a paid law enforcement—Yes, I’ll be there in five minutes. Have that car ready to leave at once. If you dont, I’ll report it to the governor.”

He clapped the receiver back and crossed the diningroom, where the scarce-broken meal now lay cold on the table, and entered the kitchen. Dilsey was filling the hot water bottle. Ben sat, tranquil and empty. Beside him Luster looked like a fice dog, brightly watchful. He was eating something. Jason went on across the kitchen.

“Aint you going to eat no breakfast?” Dilsey said. He paid her no attention. “Go and eat yo breakfast, Jason.” He went on. The outer door banged behind him. Luster rose and went to the window and looked out.

“Whoo,” he said, “What happenin up dar? He been beatin’ Miss Quentin?”

“You hush yo mouf,” Dilsey said. “You git Benjy started now en I beat yo head off. You keep him quiet es you kin twell I get back, now.” She screwed the cap on the bottle and went out. They heard her go up the stairs, then they heard Jason pass the house in his car. Then there was no sound in the kitchen save the simmering murmur of the kettle and the clock.

“You know whut I bet?” Luster said. “I bet he beat her. I bet he knock her in de head en now he gone fer de doctor. Dat’s whut I bet.” The clock tick-tocked, solemn and profound. It might have been the dry pulse of the decaying house itself; after a while it whirred and cleared its throat and struck six times. Ben looked up at it, then he looked at the bullet-like silhouette of Luster’s head in the window and he begun to bob his head again, drooling. He whimpered.

“Hush up, loony,” Luster said without turning. “Look like we aint gwine git to go to no church today.” But Ben sat in the chair, his big soft hands dangling between his knees, moaning faintly. Suddenly he wept, a slow bellowing sound, meaningless and sustained. “Hush,” Luster said. He turned and lifted his hand. “You want me to whup you?” But Ben looked at him, bellowing slowly with each expiration. Luster came and shook him. “You hush dis minute!” he shouted. “Here,” he said. He hauled Ben out of the chair and dragged the chair around facing the stove and opened the door to the firebox and shoved Ben into the chair. They looked like a tug nudging at a clumsy tanker in a narrow dock. Ben sat down again facing the rosy door. He hushed. Then they heard the clock again, and Dilsey slow on the stairs. When she entered he began to whimper again. Then he lifted his voice.

“Whut you done to him?” Dilsey said. “Why cant you let him lone dis mawnin, of all times?”

“I aint doin nothin to him,” Luster said. “Mr Jason skeered him, dat’s whut hit is. He aint kilt Miss Quentin, is he?”

“Hush, Benjy,” Dilsey said. He hushed. She went to the window and looked out. “Is it quit rainin?” she said.

“Yessum,” Luster said. “Quit long time ago.”

“Den ya’ll go out do’s a while,” she said. “I jes got Miss Cahline quiet now.”

“Is we gwine to church?” Luster said.

“I let you know bout dat when de time come. You keep him away fum de house twell I calls you.”

“Kin we go to de pastuh?” Luster said.

“All right. Only you keep him away fum de house. I done stood all I kin.”

“Yessum,” Luster said. “Whar Mr Jason gone, mammy?”

“Dat’s some mo of yo business, aint it?” Dilsey said. She began to clear the table. “Hush, Benjy. Luster gwine take you out to play.”

“Whut he done to Miss Quentin, mammy?” Luster said.

“Aint done nothin to her. You all git on outen here.”

“I bet she aint here,” Luster said.

Dilsey looked at him. “How you know she aint here?”

“Me and Benjy seed her clamb out de window last night. Didn’t us, Benjy?”

“You did?” Dilsey said, looking at him.

“We sees her doin hit ev’y night,” Luster said, “Clamb right down dat pear tree.”

“Dont you lie to me, nigger boy,” Dilsey said.

“I aint lyin. Ask Benjy ef I is.”

“Whyn’t you say somethin about it, den?”

“ ’Twarn’t none o my business,” Luster said. “I aint gwine git mixed up in white folks’ business. Come on here, Benjy, les go out do’s.”

They went out. Dilsey stood for awhile at the table, then she went and cleared the breakfast things from the diningroom and ate her breakfast and cleaned up the kitchen. Then she removed her apron and hung it up and went to the foot of the stairs and listened for a moment. There was no sound. She donned the overcoat and the hat and went across to her cabin.

The rain had stopped. The air now drove out of the southeast broken overhead into blue patches. Upon the crest of a hill beyond the trees and roofs and spires of town sunlight lay like a pale scrap of cloth, was blotted away. Upon the air a bell came, then as if at a signal, other bells took up the sound and repeated it.

The cabin door opened and Dilsey emerged, again in the maroon cape and the purple gown, and wearing soiled white elbow-length gloves and minus her headcloth now. She came into the yard and called Luster. She waited awhile, then she went to the house and around it to the cellar door, moving close to the wall, and looked into the door. Ben sat on the steps. Before him Luster squatted on the damp floor. He held a saw in his left hand, the blade sprung a little by pressure of his hand, and he was in the act of striking the blade with the worn wooden mallet with which she had been making beaten biscuit for more than thirty years. The saw gave forth a single sluggish twang that ceased with lifeless alacrity, leaving the blade in a thin clean curve between Luster’s hand and the floor. Still, inscrutable, it bellied.

“Dat’s de way he done hit,” Luster said. “I jes aint foun de right thing to hit it wid.”

“Dat’s whut you doin, is it?” Dilsey said. “Bring me dat mallet,” she said.

“I aint hurt hit,” Luster said.

“Bring hit here,” Dilsey said. “Put dat saw whar you got hit first.”

He put the saw away and brought the mallet to her. Then Ben wailed again, hopeless and prolonged. It was nothing. Just sound. It might have been all time and injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant by a conjunction of planets.

“Listen at him,” Luster said, “He been gwine on dat way ev’y since you sont us outen de house. I dont know whut got in to him dis mawnin.”

“Bring him here,” Dilsey said.

“Come on, Benjy,” Luster said. He went back down the steps and took Ben’s arm. He came obediently, wailing, that slow hoarse sound that ships make, that seems to begin before the sound itself has started, seems to cease before the sound itself has stopped.

“Run and git his cap,” Dilsey said. “Dont make no noise Miss Cahline kin hear. Hurry, now. We already late.”

“She gwine hear him anyhow, ef you dont stop him.” Luster said.

“He stop when we git off de place,” Dilsey said. “He smellin hit. Dat’s whut hit is.”

“Smell whut, mammy?” Luster said.

“You go git dat cap,” Dilsey said. Luster went on. They stood in the cellar door, Ben one step below her. The sky was broken now into scudding patches that dragged their swift shadows up out of the shabby garden, over the broken fence and across the yard. Dilsey stroked Ben’s head, slowly and steadily, smoothing the bang upon his brow. He wailed quietly, unhurriedly. “Hush,” Dilsey said, “Hush, now. We be gone in a minute. Hush, now.” He wailed quietly and steadily.

Luster returned, wearing a stiff new straw hat with a coloured band and carrying a cloth cap. The hat seemed to isolate Luster’s skull, in the beholder’s eye as a spotlight would, in all its individual planes and angles. So peculiarly individual was its shape that at first glance the hat appeared to be on the head of someone standing immediately behind Luster. Dilsey looked at the hat.

“Whyn’t you wear yo old hat?” she said.

“Couldn’t find hit,” Luster said.

“I bet you couldn’t. I bet you fixed hit last night so you couldn’t find hit. You fixin to ruin dat un.”

“Aw, mammy,” Luster said, “Hit aint gwine rain.”

“How you know? You go git dat old hat en put dat new un away.”

“Aw, mammy.”

“Den you go git de umbreller.”

“Aw, mammy.”

“Take yo choice,” Dilsey said. “Git yo old hat, er de umbreller. I dont keer which.”

Luster went to the cabin. Ben wailed quietly.

“Come on,” Dilsey said, “Dey kin ketch up wid us. We gwine to hear de singin.” They went around the house, toward the gate. “Hush,” Dilsey said from time to time as they went down the drive. They reached the gate. Dilsey opened it. Luster was coming down the drive behind them, carrying the umbrella. A woman was with him. “Here dey come,” Dilsey said. They passed out the gate. “Now, den,” she said. Ben ceased. Luster and his mother overtook them. Frony wore a dress of bright blue silk and a flowered hat. She was a thin woman, with a flat, pleasant face.

“You got six weeks’ work right dar on yo back,” Dilsey said. “Whut you gwine do ef hit rain?”

“Git wet, I reckon,” Frony said. “I aint never stopped no rain yit.”

“Mammy always talkin bout hit gwine rain,” Luster said.

“Ef I dont worry bout y’all, I dont know who is,” Dilsey said. “Come on, we already late.”

“Rev’un Shegog gwine preach today,” Frony said.

“Is?” Dilsey said. “Who him?”

“He fum Saint Looey,” Frony said. “Dat big preacher.”

“Huh,” Dilsey said, “Whut dey needs is a man kin put de fear of God into dese here triflin young niggers.”

“Rev’un Shegog gwine preach today,” Frony said. “So dey tells.”

They went on along the street. Along its quiet length white people in bright clumps moved churchward, under the windy bells, walking now and then in the random and tentative sun. The wind was gusty, out of the southeast, chill and raw after the warm days.

“I wish you wouldn’t keep on bringin him to church, mammy,” Frony said. “Folks talkin.”

“Whut folks?” Dilsey said.

“I hears em,” Frony said.

“And I knows whut kind of folks,” Dilsey said, “Trash white folks. Dat’s who it is. Thinks he aint good enough fer white church, but nigger church aint good enough fer him.”

“Dey talks, jes de same,” Frony said.

“Den you send um to me,” Dilsey said. “Tell um de good Lawd dont keer whether he smart er not. Dont nobody but white trash keer dat.”

A street turned off at right angles, descending, and became a dirt road. On either hand the land dropped more sharply; a broad flat dotted with small cabins whose weathered roofs were on a level with the crown of the road. They were set in small grassless plots littered with broken things, bricks, planks, crockery, things of a once utilitarian value. What growth there was consisted of rank weeds and the trees were mulberries and locusts and sycamores—trees that partook also of the foul desiccation which surrounded the houses; trees whose very burgeoning seemed to be the sad and stubborn remnant of September, as if even spring had passed them by, leaving them to feed upon the rich and unmistakable smell of negroes in which they grew.

From the doors negroes spoke to them as they passed, to Dilsey usually:

“Sis’ Gibson! How you dis mawnin?”

“I’m well. Is you well?”

“I’m right well, I thank you.”

They emerged from the cabins and struggled up the shading levee to the road—men in staid, hard brown or black, with gold watch chains and now and then a stick; young men in cheap violent blues or stripes and swaggering hats; women a little stiffly sibilant, and children in garments bought second hand of white people, who looked at Ben with the covertness of nocturnal animals:

“I bet you wont go up en tech him.”

“How come I wont?”

“I bet you wont. I bet you skeered to.”

“He wont hurt folks. He des a loony.”

“How come a loony wont hurt folks?”

“Dat un wont. I teched him.”

“I bet you wont now.”

“Case Miss Dilsey lookin.”

“You wont no ways.”

“He dont hurt folks. He des a loony.”

And steadily the older people speaking to Dilsey, though, unless they were quite old, Dilsey permitted Frony to respond.

“Mammy aint feelin well dis mawnin.”

“Dat’s too bad. But Rev’un Shegog’ll cure dat. He’ll give her de comfort en de unburdenin.”

The road rose again, to a scene like a painted backdrop. Notched into a cut of red clay crowned with oaks the road appeared to stop short off, like a cut ribbon. Beside it a weathered church lifted its crazy steeple like a painted church, and the whole scene was as flat and without perspective as a painted cardboard set upon the ultimate edge of the flat earth, against the windy sunlight of space and April and a midmorning filled with bells. Toward the church they thronged with slow sabbath deliberation. The women and children went on in, the men stopped outside and talked in quiet groups until the bell ceased ringing. Then they too entered.

The church had been decorated, with sparse flowers from kitchen gardens and hedgerows, and with streamers of coloured crepe paper. Above the pulpit hung a battered Christmas bell, the accordion sort that collapses. The pulpit was empty, though the choir was already in place, fanning themselves although it was not warm.

Most of the women were gathered on one side of the room. They were talking. Then the bell struck one time and they dispersed to their seats and the congregation sat for an instant, expectant. The bell struck again one time. The choir rose and began to sing and the congregation turned its head as one, as six small children—four girls with tight pigtails bound with small scraps of cloth like butterflies, and two boys with close napped heads,—entered and marched up the aisle, strung together in a harness of white ribbons and flowers, and followed by two men in single file. The second man was huge, of a light coffee colour, imposing in a frock coat and white tie. His head was magisterial and profound, his neck rolled above his collar in rich folds. But he was familiar to them, and so the heads were still reverted when he had passed, and it was not until the choir ceased singing that they realised that the visiting clergyman had already entered, and when they saw the man who had preceded their minister enter the pulpit still ahead of him an indescribable sound went up, a sigh, a sound of astonishment and disappointment.

The visitor was undersized, in a shabby alpaca coat. He had a wizened black face like a small, aged monkey. And all the while that the choir sang again and while the six children rose and sang in thin, frightened, tuneless whispers, they watched the insignificant looking man sitting dwarfed and countrified by the minister’s imposing bulk, with something like consternation. They were still looking at him with consternation and unbelief when the minister rose and introduced him in rich, rolling tones whose very unction served to increase the visitor’s insignificance.

“En dey brung dat all de way fum Saint Looey,” Frony whispered.

“I’ve knowed de Lawd to use cuiser tools dan dat,” Dilsey said. “Hush, now,” she said to Ben, “Dey fixin to sing again in a minute.”

When the visitor rose to speak he sounded like a white man. His voice was level and cold. It sounded too big to have come from him and they listened at first through curiosity, as they would have to a monkey talking. They began to watch him as they would a man on a tight rope. They even forgot his insignificant appearance in the virtuosity with which he ran and poised and swooped upon the cold inflectionless wire of his voice, so that at last, when with a sort of swooping glide he came to rest again beside the reading desk with one arm resting upon it at shoulder height and his monkey body as reft of all motion as a mummy or an emptied vessel, the congregation sighed as if it waked from a collective dream and moved a little in its seats. Behind the pulpit the choir fanned steadily. Dilsey whispered, “Hush, now. Dey fixin to sing in a minute.”

Then a voice said, “Brethren.”

The preacher had not moved. His arm lay yet across the desk, and he still held that pose while the voice died in sonorous echoes between the walls. It was as different as day and dark from his former tone, with a sad, timbrous quality like an alto horn, sinking into their hearts and speaking there again when it had ceased in fading and cumulate echoes.

“Brethren and sisteren,” it said again. The preacher removed his arm and he began to walk back and forth before the desk, his hands clasped behind him, a meagre figure, hunched over upon itself like that of one long immured in striving with the implacable earth, “I got the recollection and the blood of the Lamb!” He tramped steadily back and forth beneath the twisted paper and the Christmas bell, hunched, his hands clasped behind him. He was like a worn small rock whelmed by the successive waves of his voice. With his body he seemed to feed the voice that, succubus like, had fleshed its teeth in him. And the congregation seemed to watch with its own eyes while the voice consumed him, until he was nothing and they were nothing and there was not even a voice but instead their hearts were speaking to one another in chanting measures beyond the need for words, so that when he came to rest against the reading desk, his monkey face lifted and his whole attitude that of a serene, tortured crucifix that transcended its shabbiness and insignificance and made it of no moment, a long moaning expulsion of breath rose from them, and a woman’s single soprano: “Yes, Jesus!”

As the scudding day passed overhead the dingy windows glowed and faded in ghostly retrograde. A car passed along the road outside, labouring in the sand, died away. Dilsey sat bolt upright, her hand on Ben’s knee. Two tears slid down her fallen cheeks, in and out of the myriad coruscations of immolation and abnegation and time.

“Brethren,” the minister said in a harsh whisper, without moving.

“Yes, Jesus!” The woman’s voice said, hushed yet.

“Breddren en sistuhn!” His voice rang again, with the horns. He removed his arm and stood erect and raised his hands. “I got de ricklickshun en de blood of de Lamb!” They did not mark just when his intonation, his pronunciation, became negroid, they just sat swaying a little in their seats as the voice took them into itself.

“When de long, cold—Oh, I tells you, breddren, when de long, cold—I sees de light en I sees de word, po sinner! Dey passed away in Egypt, de swingin chariots; de generations passed away. Wus a rich man: whar he now, O breddren? Was a po man: whar he now, O sistuhn? Oh I tells you, ef you aint got de milk en de dew of de old salvation when de long, cold years rolls away!”

“Yes, Jesus!”

“I tells you, breddren, en I tells you, sistuhn, dey’ll come a time. Po sinner saying Let me lay down wid de Lawd, lemme lay down my load. Den whut Jesus gwine say, O breddren? O sistuhn? Is you got de ricklickshun en de Blood of de Lamb? Case I aint gwine load down heaven!”

He fumbled in his coat and took out a handkerchief and mopped his face. A low concerted sound rose from the congregation: “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!” The woman’s voice said, “Yes, Jesus! Jesus!

“Breddren! Look at dem little chillen settin dar. Jesus wus like dat once. He mammy suffered de glory en de pangs. Sometime maybe she helt him at de nightfall, whilst de angels singin him to sleep; maybe she look out de do’ en see de Roman po-lice passin.” He tramped back and forth, mopping his face. “Listen, breddren! I sees de day. Ma’y settin in de do’ wid Jesus on her lap, de little Jesus. Like dem chillen dar, de little Jesus. I hears de angels singin de peaceful songs en de glory; I sees de closin eyes; sees Mary jump up, sees de sojer face: We gwine to kill! We gwine to kill! We gwine to kill yo little Jesus! I hears de weepin en de lamentation of de po mammy widout de salvation en de word of God!”

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Jesus! Little Jesus!” and another voice, rising:

“I sees, O Jesus! Oh I sees!” and still another, without words, like bubbles rising in water.

“I sees hit, breddren! I sees hit! Sees de blastin, blindin sight! I sees Calvary, wid de sacred trees, sees de thief en de murderer en de least of dese; I hears de boasting en de braggin: Ef you be Jesus, lif up yo tree en walk! I hears de wailin of women en de evenin lamentations; I hears de weepin en de cryin en de turnt-away face of God: dey done kilt Jesus; dey done kilt my Son!”

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Jesus! I sees, O Jesus!”

“O blind sinner! Breddren, I tells you; sistuhn, I says to you, when de Lawd did turn His mighty face, say, Aint gwine overload heaven! I can see de widowed God shet His do’; I sees de whelmin flood roll between; I sees de darkness en de death everlastin upon de generations. Den, lo! Breddren! Yes, breddren! Whut I see? Whut I see, O sinner? I sees de resurrection en de light; sees de meek Jesus sayin Dey kilt Me dat ye shall live again; I died dat dem whut sees en believes shall never die. Breddren, O breddren! I sees de doom crack en hears de golden horns shoutin down de glory, en de arisen dead whut got de blood en de ricklickshun of de Lamb!”

In the midst of the voices and the hands Ben sat, rapt in his sweet blue gaze. Dilsey sat bolt upright beside, crying rigidly and quietly in the annealment and the blood of the remembered Lamb.

As they walked through the bright noon, up the sandy road with the dispersing congregation talking easily again group to group, she continued to weep, unmindful of the talk.

“He sho a preacher, mon! He didn’t look like much at first, but hush!”

“He seed de power en de glory.”

“Yes, suh. He seed hit. Face to face he seed hit.”

Dilsey made no sound, her face did not quiver as the tears took their sunken and devious courses, walking with her head up, making no effort to dry them away even.

“Whyn’t you quit dat, mammy?” Frony said. “Wid all dese people lookin. We be passin white folks soon.”

“I’ve seed de first en de last,” Dilsey said. “Never you mind me.”

“First en last whut?” Frony said.

“Never you mind,” Dilsey said. “I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin.”

Before they reached the street, though, she stopped and lifted her skirt and dried her eyes on the hem of her topmost underskirt. Then they went on. Ben shambled along beside Dilsey, watching Luster who anticked along ahead, the umbrella in his hand and his new straw hat slanted viciously in the sunlight, like a big foolish dog watching a small clever one. They reached the gate and entered. Immediately Ben began to whimper again, and for a while all of them looked up the drive at the square, paintless house with its rotting portico.

“Whut’s gwine on up dar today?” Frony said. “Something is.”

“Nothin,” Dilsey said. “You tend to yo business en let de white folks tend to deir’n.”

“Somethin is,” Frony said. “I heard him first thing dis mawnin. Taint none of my business, dough.”

“En I knows whut, too,” Luster said.

“You knows mo dan you got any use fer,” Dilsey said. “Aint you jes heard Frony say hit aint none of yo business? You take Benjy on to de back and keep him quiet twell I put dinner on.”

“I knows whar Miss Quentin is,” Luster said.

“Den jes keep hit,” Dilsey said. “Soon es Quentin need any of yo egvice, I’ll let you know. Y’all g’awn en play in de back, now.”

“You know whut gwine happen soon es dey start playin dat ball over yonder,” Luster said.

“Dey wont start fer awhile yit. By dat time T. P. be here to take him ridin. Here, you gimme dat new hat.”

Luster gave her the hat and he and Ben went on across the back yard. Ben was still whimpering, though not loud. Dilsey and Frony went to the cabin. After a while Dilsey emerged, again in the faded calico dress, and went to the kitchen. The fire had died down. There was no sound in the house. She put on the apron and went up stairs. There was no sound anywhere. Quentin’s room was as they had left it. She entered and picked up the undergarment and put the stocking back in the drawer and closed it. Mrs Compson’s door was closed. Dilsey stood beside it for a moment, listening. Then she opened it and entered, entered a pervading reek of camphor. The shades were drawn, the room in halflight, and the bed, so that at first she thought Mrs Compson was asleep and was about to close the door when the other spoke.

“Well?” she said, “What is it?”

“Hit’s me,” Dilsey said. “You want anything?”

Mrs Compson didn’t answer. After awhile, without moving her head at all, she said: “Where’s Jason?”

“He aint come back yit,” Dilsey said. “Whut you want?”

Mrs Compson said nothing. Like so many cold, weak people, when faced at last by the incontrovertible disaster she exhumed from somewhere a sort of fortitude, strength. In her case it was an unshakable conviction regarding the yet unplumbed event. “Well,” she said presently, “Did you find it?”

“Find whut? Whut you talkin about?”

“The note. At least she would have enough consideration to leave a note. Even Quentin did that.”

“Whut you talkin about?” Dilsey said, “Dont you know she all right? I bet she be walkin right in dis do’ befo dark.”

“Fiddlesticks,” Mrs Compson said, “It’s in the blood. Like uncle, like niece. Or mother. I dont know which would be worse. I dont seem to care.”

“Whut you keep on talkin that way fur?” Dilsey said. “Whut she want to do anything like that fur?”

“I dont know. What reason did Quentin have? Under God’s heaven what reason did he have? It cant be simply to flout and hurt me. Whoever God is, He would not permit that. I’m a lady. You might not believe that from my offspring, but I am.”

“You des wait en see,” Dilsey said. “She be here by night, right dar in her bed.” Mrs Compson said nothing. The camphor-soaked cloth lay upon her brow. The black robe lay across the foot of the bed. Dilsey stood with her hand on the door knob.

“Well,” Mrs Compson said. “What do you want? Are you going to fix some dinner for Jason and Benjamin, or not?”

“Jason aint come yit,” Dilsey said. “I gwine fix somethin. You sho you dont want nothin? Yo bottle still hot enough?”

“You might hand me my Bible.”

“I give hit to you dis mawnin, befo I left.”

“You laid it on the edge of the bed. How long did you expect it to stay there?”

Dilsey crossed to the bed and groped among the shadows beneath the edge of it and found the Bible, face down. She smoothed the bent pages and laid the book on the bed again. Mrs Compson didn’t open her eyes. Her hair and the pillow were the same color, beneath the wimple of the medicated cloth she looked like an old nun praying. “Dont put it there again,” she said, without opening her eyes. “That’s where you put it before. Do you want me to have to get out of bed to pick it up?”

Dilsey reached the book across her and laid it on the broad side of the bed. “You cant see to read, noways,” she said. “You want me to raise de shade a little?”

“No. Let them alone. Go on and fix Jason something to eat.”

Dilsey went out. She closed the door and returned to the kitchen. The stove was almost cold. While she stood there the clock above the cupboard struck ten times. “One oclock,” she said aloud, “Jason aint comin home. Ise seed de first en de last,” she said, looking at the cold stove, “I seed de first en de last.” She set out some cold food on a table. As she moved back and forth she sang a hymn. She sang the first two lines over and over to the complete tune. She arranged the meal and went to the door and called Luster, and after a time Luster and Ben entered. Ben was still moaning a little, as to himself.

“He aint never quit,” Luster said.

“Y’all come on en eat,” Dilsey said. “Jason aint coming to dinner.” They sat down at the table. Ben could manage solid food pretty well for himself, though even now, with cold food before him, Dilsey tied a cloth about his neck. He and Luster ate. Dilsey moved about the kitchen, singing the two lines of the hymn which she remembered. “Y’all kin g’awn en eat,” she said, “Jason aint comin home.”

He was twenty miles away at that time. When he left the house he drove rapidly to town, overreaching the slow sabbath groups and the peremptory bells along the broken air. He crossed the empty square and turned into a narrow street that was abruptly quieter even yet, and stopped before a frame house and went up the flower-bordered walk to the porch.

Beyond the screen door people were talking. As he lifted his hand to knock he heard steps, so he withheld his hand until a big man in black broadcloth trousers and a stiff-bosomed white shirt without collar opened the door. He had vigorous untidy iron-grey hair and his grey eyes were round and shiny like a little boy’s. He took Jason’s hand and drew him into the house, still shaking it.

“Come right in,” he said, “Come right in.”

“You ready to go now?” Jason said.

“Walk right in,” the other said, propelling him by the elbow into a room where a man and a woman sat. “You know Myrtle’s husband, don’t you? Jason Compson, Vernon.”

“Yes,” Jason said. He did not even look at the man, and as the sheriff drew a chair across the room the man said,

“We’ll go out so you can talk. Come on, Myrtle.”

“No, no,” the sheriff said, “You folks keep your seat. I reckon it aint that serious, Jason? Have a seat.”

“I’ll tell you as we go along,” Jason said. “Get your hat and coat.”

“We’ll go out,” the man said, rising.

“Keep your seat,” the sheriff said. “Me and Jason will go out on the porch.”

“You get your hat and coat,” Jason said. “They’ve already got a twelve hour start.” The sheriff led the way back to the porch. A man and a woman passing spoke to him. He responded with a hearty florid gesture. Bells were still ringing, from the direction of the section known as Nigger Hollow. “Get your hat, Sheriff,” Jason said. The sheriff drew up two chairs.

“Have a seat and tell me what the trouble is.”

“I told you over the phone,” Jason said, standing. “I did that to save time. Am I going to have to go to law to compel you to do your sworn duty?”

“You sit down and tell me about it,” the sheriff said. “I’ll take care of you all right.”

“Care, hell,” Jason said. “Is this what you call taking care of me?”

“You’re the one that’s holding us up,” the sheriff said. “You sit down and tell me about it.”

Jason told him, his sense of injury and impotence feeding upon its own sound, so that after a time he forgot his haste in the violent cumulation of his self justification and his outrage. The sheriff watched him steadily with his cold shiny eyes.

“But you dont know they done it,” he said. “You just think so.”

“Dont know?” Jason said. “When I spent two damn days chasing her through alleys, trying to keep her away from him, after I told her what I’d do to her if I ever caught her with him, and you say I dont know that that little b—”

“Now, then,” the sheriff said, “That’ll do. That’s enough of that.” He looked out across the street, his hands in his pockets.

“And when I come to you, a commissioned officer of the law,” Jason said.

“That show’s in Mottson this week,” the sheriff said.

“Yes,” Jason said, “And if I could find a law officer that gave a solitary damn about protecting the people that elected him to office, I’d be there too by now.” He repeated his story, harshly recapitulant, seeming to get an actual pleasure out of his outrage and impotence. The sheriff did not appear to be listening at all.

“Jason,” he said, “What were you doing with three thousand dollars hid in the house?”

“What?” Jason said. “That’s my business where I keep my money. Your business is to help me get it back.”

“Did your mother know you had that much on the place?”

“Look here,” Jason said, “My house has been robbed. I know who did it and I know where they are. I come to you as the commissioned officer of the law, and I ask you once more, are you going to make any effort to recover my property, or not?”

“What do you aim to do with that girl, if you catch them?”

“Nothing,” Jason said, “Not anything. I wouldn’t lay my hand on her. The bitch that cost me a job, the one chance I ever had to get ahead, that killed my father and is shortening my mother’s life every day and made my name a laughing stock in the town. I wont do anything to her,” he said. “Not anything.”

“You drove that girl into running off, Jason,” the sheriff said.

“How I conduct my family is no business of yours,” Jason said. “Are you going to help me or not?”

“You drove her away from home,” the sheriff said. “And I have some suspicions about who that money belongs to that I dont reckon I’ll ever know for certain.”

Jason stood, slowly wringing the brim of his hat in his hands. He said quietly: “You’re not going to make any effort to catch them for me?”

“That’s not any of my business, Jason. If you had any actual proof, I’d have to act. But without that I dont figger it’s any of my business.”

“That’s your answer, is it?” Jason said. “Think well, now.”

“That’s it, Jason.”

“All right,” Jason said. He put his hat on. “You’ll regret this. I wont be helpless. This is not Russia, where just because he wears a little metal badge, a man is immune to law.” He went down the steps and got in his car and started the engine. The sheriff watched him drive away, turn, and rush past the house toward town.

The bells were ringing again, high in the scudding sunlight in bright disorderly tatters of sound. He stopped at a filling station and had his tires examined and the tank filled.

“Gwine on a trip, is you?” the negro asked him. He didn’t answer. “Look like hit gwine fair off, after all,” the negro said.

“Fair off, hell,” Jason said, “It’ll be raining like hell by twelve oclock.” He looked at the sky, thinking about rain, about the slick clay roads, himself stalled somewhere miles from town. He thought about it with a sort of triumph, of the fact that he was going to miss dinner, that by starting now and so serving his compulsion of haste, he would be at the greatest possible distance from both towns when noon came. It seemed to him that, in this, circumstance was giving him a break, so he said to the negro:

“What the hell are you doing? Has somebody paid you to keep this car standing here as long as you can?”

“Dis here ti’ aint got no air a-tall in hit,” the negro said.

“Then get the hell away from there and let me have that tube,” Jason said.

“Hit up now,” the negro said, rising. “You kin ride now.”

Jason got in and started the engine and drove off. He went into second gear, the engine spluttering and gasping, and he raced the engine, jamming the throttle down and snapping the choker in and out savagely. “It’s goin to rain,” he said, “Get me half way there, and rain like hell.” And he drove on out of the bells and out of town, thinking of himself slogging through the mud, hunting a team. “And every damn one of them will be at church.” He thought how he’d find a church at last and take a team and of the owner coming out, shouting at him and of himself striking the man down. “I’m Jason Compson. See if you can stop me. See if you can elect a man to office that can stop me,” he said, thinking of himself entering the courthouse with a file of soldiers and dragging the sheriff out. “Thinks he can sit with his hands folded and see me lose my job. I’ll show him about jobs.” Of his niece he did not think at all, nor the arbitrary valuation of the money. Neither of them had had entity or individuality for him for ten years; together they merely symbolized the job in the bank of which he had been deprived before he ever got it.

The air brightened, the running shadow patches were not the obverse, and it seemed to him that the fact that the day was clearing was another cunning stroke on the part of the foe, the fresh battle toward which he was carrying ancient wounds. From time to time he passed churches, unpainted frame buildings with sheet iron steeples, surrounded by tethered teams and shabby motorcars, and it seemed to him that each of them was a picket-post where the rear guards of Circumstance peeped fleetingly back at him. “And damn You, too,” he said, “See if You can stop me,” thinking of himself, his file of soldiers with the manacled sheriff in the rear, dragging Omnipotence down from His throne, if necessary; of the embattled legions of both hell and heaven through which he tore his way and put his hands at last on his fleeing niece.

The wind was out of the southeast. It blew steadily upon his cheek. It seemed that he could feel the prolonged blow of it sinking through his skull, and suddenly with an old premonition he clapped the brakes on and stopped and sat perfectly still. Then he lifted his hand to his neck and began to curse, and sat there, cursing in a harsh whisper. When it was necessary for him to drive for any length of time he fortified himself with a handkerchief soaked in camphor, which he would tie about his throat when clear of town, thus inhaling the fumes, and he got out and lifted the seat cushion on the chance that there might be a forgotten one there. He looked beneath both seats and stood again for a while, cursing, seeing himself mocked by his own triumphing. He closed his eyes, leaning on the door. He could return and get the forgotten camphor, or he could go on. In either case, his head would be splitting, but at home he could be sure of finding camphor on Sunday, while if he went on he could not be sure. But if he went back, he would be an hour and a half later in reaching Mottson. “Maybe I can drive slow,” he said. “Maybe I can drive slow, thinking of something else—”

He got in and started. “I’ll think of something else,” he said, so he thought about Lorraine. He imagined himself in bed with her, only he was just lying beside her, pleading with her to help him, then he thought of the money again, and that he had been outwitted by a woman, a girl. If he could just believe it was the man who had robbed him. But to have been robbed of that which was to have compensated him for the lost job, which he had acquired through so much effort and risk, by the very symbol of the lost job itself, and worst of all, by a bitch of a girl. He drove on, shielding his face from the steady wind with the corner of his coat.

He could see the opposed forces of his destiny and his will drawing swiftly together now, toward a junction that would be irrevocable; he became cunning. I cant make a blunder, he told himself. There would be just one right thing, without alternatives: he must do that. He believed that both of them would know him on sight, while he’d have to trust to seeing her first, unless the man still wore the red tie. And the fact that he must depend on that red tie seemed to be the sum of the impending disaster; he could almost smell it, feel it above the throbbing of his head.

He crested the final hill. Smoke lay in the valley, and roofs, a spire or two above trees. He drove down the hill and into the town, slowing, telling himself again of the need for caution, to find where the tent was located first. He could not see very well now, and he knew that it was the disaster which kept telling him to go directly and get something for his head. At a filling station they told him that the tent was not up yet, but that the show cars were on a siding at the station. He drove there.

Two gaudily painted pullman cars stood on the track. He reconnoitred them before he got out. He was trying to breathe shallowly, so that the blood would not beat so in his skull. He got out and went along the station wall, watching the cars. A few garments hung out of the windows, limp and crinkled, as though they had been recently laundered. On the earth beside the steps of one sat three canvas chairs. But he saw no sign of life at all until a man in a dirty apron came to the door and emptied a pan of dishwater with a broad gesture, the sunlight glinting on the metal belly of the pan, then entered the car again.

Now I’ll have to take him by surprise, before he can warn them, he thought. It never occurred to him that they might not be there, in the car. That they should not be there, that the whole result should not hinge on whether he saw them first or they saw him first, would be opposed to all nature and contrary to the whole rhythm of events. And more than that: he must see them first, get the money back, then what they did would be of no importance to him, while otherwise the whole world would know that he, Jason Compson, had been robbed by Quentin, his niece, a bitch.

He reconnoitred again. Then he went to the car and mounted the steps, swiftly and quietly, and paused at the door. The galley was dark, rank with stale food. The man was a white blur, singing in a cracked, shaky tenor. An old man, he thought, and not as big as I am. He entered the car as the man looked up.

“Hey?” the man said, stopping his song.

“Where are they?” Jason said. “Quick, now. In the sleeping car?”

“Where’s who?” the man said.

“Dont lie to me,” Jason said. He blundered on in the cluttered obscurity.

“What’s that?” the other said, “Who you calling a liar?” And when Jason grasped his shoulder he exclaimed, “Look out, fellow!”

“Dont lie,” Jason said, “Where are they?”

“Why, you bastard,” the man said. His arm was frail and thin in Jason’s grasp. He tried to wrench free, then he turned and fell to scrabbling on the littered table behind him.

“Come on,” Jason said, “Where are they?”

“I’ll tell you where they are,” the man shrieked, “Lemme find my butcher knife.”

“Here,” Jason said, trying to hold the other, “I’m just asking you a question.”

“You bastard,” the other shrieked, scrabbling at the table. Jason tried to grasp him in both arms, trying to prison the puny fury of him. The man’s body felt so old, so frail, yet so fatally single-purposed that for the first time Jason saw clear and unshadowed the disaster toward which he rushed.

“Quit it!” he said, “Here! Here! I’ll get out. Give me time, and I’ll get out.”

“Call me a liar,” the other wailed, “Lemme go. Lemme go just one minute. I’ll show you.”

Jason glared wildly about, holding the other. Outside it was now bright and sunny, swift and bright and empty, and he thought of the people soon to be going quietly home to Sunday dinner, decorously festive, and of himself trying to hold the fatal, furious little old man whom he dared not release long enough to turn his back and run.

“Will you quit long enough for me to get out?” he said, “Will you?” But the other still struggled, and Jason freed one hand and struck him on the head. A clumsy, hurried blow, and not hard, but the other slumped immediately and slid clattering among pans and buckets to the floor. Jason stood above him, panting, listening. Then he turned and ran from the car. At the door he restrained himself and descended more slowly and stood there again. His breath made a hah hah hah sound and he stood there trying to repress it, darting his gaze this way and that, when at a scuffling sound behind him he turned in time to see the little old man leaping awkwardly and furiously from the vestibule, a rusty hatchet high in his hand.

He grasped at the hatchet, feeling no shock but knowing that he was falling, thinking So this is how it’ll end, and he believed that he was about to die and when something crashed against the back of his head he thought How did he hit me there? Only maybe he hit me a long time ago, he thought, And I just now felt it, and he thought Hurry. Hurry. Get it over with, and then a furious desire not to die seized him and he struggled, hearing the old man wailing and cursing in his cracked voice.

He still struggled when they hauled him to his feet, but they held him and he ceased.

“Am I bleeding much?” he said, “The back of my head. Am I bleeding?” He was still saying that while he felt himself being propelled rapidly away, heard the old man’s thin furious voice dying away behind him. “Look at my head,” he said, “Wait, I—”

“Wait, hell,” the man who held him said, “That damn little wasp’ll kill you. Keep going. You aint hurt.”

“He hit me,” Jason said. “Am I bleeding?”

“Keep going,” the other said. He led Jason on around the corner of the station, to the empty platform where an express truck stood, where grass grew rigidly in a plot bordered with rigid flowers and a sign in electric lights: Keep your eye on Mottson, the gap filled by an eye with an electric pupil. The man released him.

“Now,” he said, “You get on out of here and stay out. What were you trying to do? Commit suicide?”

“I was looking for two people,” Jason said. “I just asked him where they were.”

“Who you looking for?”

“It’s a girl,” Jason said. “And a man. He had on a red tie in Jefferson yesterday. With this show. They robbed me.”

“Oh,” the man said. “You’re the one, are you. Well, they aint here.”

“I reckon so,” Jason said. He leaned against the wall and put his hand to the back of his head and looked at his palm. “I thought I was bleeding,” he said. “I thought he hit me with that hatchet.”

“You hit your head on the rail,” the man said. “You better go on. They aint here.”

“Yes. He said they were not here. I thought he was lying.”

“Do you think I’m lying?” the man said.

“No,” Jason said. “I know they’re not here.”

“I told him to get the hell out of there, both of them,” the man said. “I wont have nothing like that in my show. I run a respectable show, with a respectable troupe.”

“Yes,” Jason said. “You dont know where they went?”

“No. And I dont want to know. No member of my show can pull a stunt like that. You her—brother?”

“No,” Jason said. “It dont matter. I just wanted to see them. You sure he didn’t hit me? No blood, I mean.”

“There would have been blood if I hadn’t got there when I did. You stay away from here, now. That little bastard’ll kill you. That your car yonder?”


“Well, you get in it and go back to Jefferson. If you find them, it wont be in my show. I run a respectable show. You say they robbed you?”

“No,” Jason said, “It dont make any difference.” He went to the car and got in. What is it I must do? he thought. Then he remembered. He started the engine and drove slowly up the street until he found a drugstore. The door was locked. He stood for a while with his hand on the knob and his head bent a little. Then he turned away and when a man came along after a while he asked if there was a drugstore open anywhere, but there was not. Then he asked when the northbound train ran, and the man told him at two thirty. He crossed the pavement and got in the car again and sat there. After a while two negro lads passed. He called to them.

“Can either of you boys drive a car?”

“Yes, suh.”

“What’ll you charge to drive me to Jefferson right away?”

They looked at one another, murmuring.

“I’ll pay a dollar,” Jason said.

They murmured again. “Couldn’t go fer dat,” one said.

“What will you go for?”

“Kin you go?” one said.

“I cant git off,” the other said. “Whyn’t you drive him up dar? You aint got nothin to do.”

“Yes I is.”

“Whut you got to do?”

They murmured again, laughing.

“I’ll give you two dollars,” Jason said. “Either of you.”

“I cant git away neither,” the first said.

“All right,” Jason said. “Go on.”

He sat there for sometime. He heard a clock strike the half hour, then people began to pass, in Sunday and Easter clothes. Some looked at him as they passed, at the man sitting quietly behind the wheel of a small car, with his invisible life ravelled out about him like a worn-out sock. After a while a negro in overalls came up.

“Is you de one wants to go to Jefferson?” he said.

“Yes,” Jason said. “What’ll you charge me?”

“Fo dollars.”

“Give you two.”

“Cant go fer no less’n fo.” The man in the car sat quietly. He wasn’t even looking at him. The negro said, “You want me er not?”

“All right,” Jason said, “Get in.”

He moved over and the negro took the wheel. Jason closed his eyes. I can get something for it at Jefferson, he told himself, easing himself to the jolting, I can get something there. They drove on, along the streets where people were turning peacefully into houses and Sunday dinners, and on out of town. He thought that. He wasn’t thinking of home, where Ben and Luster were eating cold dinner at the kitchen table. Something—the absence of disaster, threat, in any constant evil—permitted him to forget Jefferson as any place which he had ever seen before, where his life must resume itself.

When Ben and Luster were done Dilsey sent them outdoors. “And see kin you keep let him alone twell fo oclock. T. P. be here den.”

“Yessum,” Luster said. They went out. Dilsey ate her dinner and cleared up the kitchen. Then she went to the foot of the stairs and listened, but there was no sound. She returned through the kitchen and out the outer door and stopped on the steps. Ben and Luster were not in sight, but while she stood there she heard another sluggish twang from the direction of the cellar door and she went to the door and looked down upon a repetition of the morning’s scene.

“He done it jes dat way,” Luster said. He contemplated the motionless saw with a kind of hopeful dejection. “I aint got de right thing to hit it wid yit,” he said.

“En you aint gwine find hit down here, neither,” Dilsey said. “You take him on out in de sun. You bofe get pneumonia down here on dis wet flo.”

She waited and watched them cross the yard toward a clump of cedar trees near the fence. Then she went on to her cabin.

“Now, dont you git started,” Luster said, “I had enough trouble wid you today.” There was a hammock made of barrel staves slatted into woven wires. Luster lay down in the swing, but Ben went on vaguely and purposelessly. He began to whimper again. “Hush, now,” Luster said, “I fixin to whup you.” He lay back in the swing. Ben had stopped moving, but Luster could hear him whimpering. “Is you gwine hush, er aint you?” Luster said. He got up and followed and came upon Ben squatting before a small mound of earth. At either end of it an empty bottle of blue glass that once contained poison was fixed in the ground. In one was a withered stalk of jimson weed. Ben squatted before it, moaning, a slow, inarticulate sound. Still moaning he sought vaguely about and found a twig and put it in the other bottle. “Whyn’t you hush?” Luster said, “You want me to give you somethin’ to sho nough moan about? Sposin I does dis.” He knelt and swept the bottle suddenly up and behind him. Ben ceased moaning. He squatted, looking at the small depression where the bottle had sat, then as he drew his lungs full Luster brought the bottle back into view. “Hush!” he hissed, “Dont you dast to beller! Dont you. Dar hit is. See? Here. You fixin to start ef you stays here. Come on, les go see ef dey started knockin ball yit.” He took Ben’s arm and drew him up and they went to the fence and stood side by side there, peering between the matted honeysuckle not yet in bloom.

“Dar,” Luster said, “Dar come some. See um?”

They watched the foursome play onto the green and out, and move to the tee and drive. Ben watched, whimpering, slobbering. When the foursome went on he followed along the fence, bobbing and moaning. One said.

“Here, caddie. Bring the bag.”

“Hush, Benjy,” Luster said, but Ben went on at his shambling trot, clinging to the fence, wailing in his hoarse, hopeless voice. The man played and went on, Ben keeping pace with him until the fence turned at right angles, and he clung to the fence, watching the people move on and away.

“Will you hush now?” Luster said. “Will you hush now?” He shook Ben’s arm. Ben clung to the fence, wailing steadily and hoarsely. “Aint you gwine stop?” Luster said, “Or is you?” Ben gazed through the fence. “All right, den,” Luster said, “You want somethin to beller about?” He looked over his shoulder, toward the house. Then he whispered: “Caddy! Beller now. Caddy! Caddy! Caddy!”

A moment later, in the slow intervals of Ben’s voice, Luster heard Dilsey calling. He took Ben by the arm and they crossed the yard toward her.

“I tole you he warn’t gwine stay quiet,” Luster said.

“You vilyun!” Dilsey said, “Whut you done to him?”

“I aint done nothin. I tole you when dem folks start playin, he git started up.”

“You come on here,” Dilsey said. “Hush, Benjy. Hush, now.” But he wouldn’t hush. They crossed the yard quickly and went to the cabin and entered. “Run git dat shoe,” Dilsey said. “Dont you sturb Miss Cahline, now. Ef she say anything, tell her I got him. Go on, now; you kin sho do dat right, I reckon.” Luster went out. Dilsey led Ben to the bed and drew him down beside her and she held him, rocking back and forth, wiping his drooling mouth upon the hem of her skirt. “Hush, now,” she said, stroking his head, “Hush. Dilsey got you.” But he bellowed slowly, abjectly, without tears; the grave hopeless sound of all voiceless misery under the sun. Luster returned, carrying a white satin slipper. It was yellow now, and cracked and soiled, and when they placed it into Ben’s hand he hushed for a while. But he still whimpered, and soon he lifted his voice again.

“You reckon you kin find T. P.?” Dilsey said.

“He say yistiddy he gwine out to St John’s today. Say he be back at fo.”

Dilsey rocked back and forth, stroking Ben’s head.

“Dis long time, O Jesus,” she said, “Dis long time.”

“I kin drive dat surrey, mammy,” Luster said.

“You kill bofe y’all,” Dilsey said. “You do hit fer devilment. I knows you got plenty sense to. But I cant trust you. Hush, now,” she said. “Hush. Hush.”

“Nome I wont,” Luster said. “I drives wid T. P.” Dilsey rocked back and forth, holding Ben. “Miss Cahline say ef you cant quiet him, she gwine git up en come down en do hit.”

“Hush, honey,” Dilsey said, stroking Ben’s head. “Luster, honey,” she said, “Will you think about yo ole mammy en drive dat surrey right?”

“Yessum,” Luster said. “I drive hit jes like T. P.”

Dilsey stroked Ben’s head, rocking back and forth. “I does de bes I kin,” she said, “Lawd knows dat. Go git it, den,” she said, rising. Luster scuttled out. Ben held the slipper, crying. “Hush, now. Luster gone to git de surrey en take you to de graveyard. We aint gwine risk gitting yo cap,” she said. She went to a closet contrived of a calico curtain hung across a corner of the room and got the felt hat she had worn. “We’s down to worse’n dis, ef folks jes knowed,” she said. “You’s de Lawd’s chile, anyway. En I be His’n too, fo long, praise Jesus. Here.” She put the hat on his head and buttoned his coat. He wailed steadily. She took the slipper from him and put it away and they went out. Luster came up, with an ancient white horse in a battered and lopsided surrey.

“You gwine be careful, Luster?” she said.

“Yessum,” Luster said. She helped Ben into the back seat. He had ceased crying, but now he began to whimper again.

“Hit’s his flower,” Luster said. “Wait, I’ll git him one.”

“You set right dar,” Dilsey said. She went and took the cheek-strap. “Now, hurry en git him one.” Luster ran around the house, toward the garden. He came back with a single narcissus.

“Dat un broke,” Dilsey said, “Whyn’t you git him a good un?”

“Hit de onliest one I could find,” Luster said. “Y’all took all of um Friday to dec’rate de church. Wait, I’ll fix hit.” So while Dilsey held the horse Luster put a splint on the flower stalk with a twig and two bits of string and gave it to Ben. Then he mounted and took the reins. Dilsey still held the bridle.

“You knows de way now?” she said, “Up de street, round de square, to de graveyard, den straight back home.”

“Yessum,” Luster said, “Hum up, Queenie.”

“You gwine be careful, now?”

“Yessum.” Dilsey released the bridle.

“Hum up, Queenie,” Luster said.

“Here,” Dilsey said, “You han me dat whup.”

“Aw, mammy,” Luster said.

“Give hit here,” Dilsey said, approaching the wheel. Luster gave it to her reluctantly.

“I wont never git Queenie started now.”

“Never you mind about dat,” Dilsey said. “Queenie know mo bout whar she gwine dan you does. All you got to do is set dar en hold dem reins. You knows de way, now?”

“Yessum. Same way T. P. goes ev’y Sunday.”

“Den you do de same thing dis Sunday.”

“Cose I is. Aint I drove fer T. P. mo’n a hund’ed times?”

“Den do hit again,” Dilsey said. “G’awn, now. En ef you hurts Benjy, nigger boy, I dont know whut I do. You bound fer de chain gang, but I’ll send you dar fo even chain gang ready fer you.”

“Yessum,” Luster said. “Hum up, Queenie.”

He flapped the lines on Queenie’s broad back and the surrey lurched into motion.

“You, Luster!” Dilsey said.

“Hum up, dar!” Luster said. He flapped the lines again. With subterranean rumblings Queenie jogged slowly down the drive and turned into the street, where Luster exhorted her into a gait resembling a prolonged and suspended fall in a forward direction.

Ben quit whimpering. He sat in the middle of the seat, holding the repaired flower upright in his fist, his eyes serene and ineffable. Directly before him Luster’s bullet head turned backward continually until the house passed from view, then he pulled to the side of the street and while Ben watched him he descended and broke a switch from a hedge. Queenie lowered her head and fell to cropping the grass until Luster mounted and hauled her head up and harried her into motion again, then he squared his elbows and with the switch and the reins held high he assumed a swaggering attitude out of all proportion to the sedate clopping of Queenie’s hooves and the organlike basso of her internal accompaniment. Motors passed them, and pedestrians; once a group of half grown negroes:

“Dar Luster. Whar you gwine, Luster? To de boneyard?”

“Hi,” Luster said, “Aint de same boneyard y’all headed fer. Hum up, elefump.”

They approached the square, where the Confederate soldier gazed with empty eyes beneath his marble hand into wind and weather. Luster took still another notch in himself and gave the impervious Queenie a cut with the switch, casting his glance about the square. “Dar Mr Jason’s car,” he said then he spied another group of negroes. “Les show dem niggers how quality does, Benjy,” he said, “Whut you say?” He looked back. Ben sat, holding the flower in his fist, his gaze empty and untroubled. Luster hit Queenie again and swung her to the left at the monument.

For an instant Ben sat in an utter hiatus. Then he bellowed. Bellow on bellow, his voice mounted, with scarce interval for breath. There was more than astonishment in it, it was horror; shock; agony eyeless, tongueless; just sound, and Luster’s eyes back-rolling for a white instant. “Gret God,” he said, “Hush! Hush! Gret God!” He whirled again and struck Queenie with the switch. It broke and he cast it away and with Ben’s voice mounting toward its unbelievable crescendo Luster caught up the end of the reins and leaned forward as Jason came jumping across the square and onto the step.

With a backhanded blow he hurled Luster aside and caught the reins and sawed Queenie about and doubled the reins back and slashed her across the hips. He cut her again and again, into a plunging gallop, while Ben’s hoarse agony roared about them, and swung her about to the right of the monument. Then he struck Luster over the head with his fist.

“Dont you know any better than to take him to the left?” he said. He reached back and struck Ben, breaking the flower stalk again. “Shut up!” he said, “Shut up!” He jerked Queenie back and jumped down. “Get to hell on home with him. If you ever cross that gate with him again, I’ll kill you!”

“Yes, suh!” Luster said. He took the reins and hit Queenie with the end of them. “Git up! Git up, dar! Benjy, fer God’s sake!”

Ben’s voice roared and roared. Queenie moved again, her feet began to clop-clop steadily again, and at once Ben hushed. Luster looked quickly back over his shoulder, then he drove on. The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right; post and tree, window and doorway, and signboard, each in its ordered place.


COMPSON  1699—1945

Ikkemotubbe. A dispossessed American king. Called “l’Homme” (and sometimes “de l’homme”) by his fosterbrother, a Chevalier of France, who had he not been born too late could have been among the brightest in that glittering galaxy of knightly blackguards who were Napoleon’s marshals, who thus translated the Chickasaw title meaning “The Man”; which translation Ikkemotubbe, himself a man of wit and imagination as well as a shrewd judge of character, including his own, carried one step further and anglicised it to “Doom.” Who granted out of his vast lost domain a solid square mile of virgin North Mississippi dirt as truly angled as the four corners of a cardtable top (forested then because these were the old days before 1883 when the stars fell and Jefferson Mississippi was one long rambling onestorey mudchinked log building housing the Chickasaw Agent and his tradingpost store) to the grandson of a Scottish refugee who had lost his own birthright by casting his lot with a king who himself had been dispossessed. This in partial return for the right to proceed in peace, by whatever means he and his people saw fit, afoot or ahorse provided they were Chickasaw horses, to the wild western land presently to be called Oklahoma; not knowing then about the oil.

JACKSON. A Great White Father with a sword. (An old duellist, a brawling lean fierce mangy durable imperishable old lion who set the wellbeing of the nation above the White House and the health of his new political party above either and above them all set not his wife’s honor but the principle that honor must be defended whether it was or not because defended it was whether or not.) Who patented sealed and countersigned the grant with his own hand in his gold tepee in Wassi Town, not knowing about the oil either: so that one day the homeless descendants of the dispossessed would ride supine with drink and splendidly comatose above the dusty allotted harborage of their bones in speciallybuilt scarlet-painted hearses and fire-engines.

These were Compsons:

QUENTIN MACLACHAN. Son of a Glasgow printer, orphaned and raised by his mother’s people in the Perth highlands. Fled to Carolina from Culloden Moor with a claymore and the tartan he wore by day and slept under by night, and little else. At eighty, having fought once against an English king and lost, he would not make that mistake twice and so fled again one night in 1779, with his infant grandson and the tartan (the claymore had vanished, along with his son, the grandson’s father, from one of Tarleton’s regiments on a Georgia battlefield about a year ago) into Kentucky, where a neighbor named Boon or Boone had already established a settlement.

CHARLES STUART. Attained and proscribed by name and grade in his British regiment. Left for dead in a Georgia swamp by his own retreating army and then by the advancing American one, both of which were wrong. He still had the claymore even when on his homemade wooden leg he finally overtook his father and son four years later at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, just in time to bury the father and enter upon a long period of being a split personality while still trying to be the schoolteacher which he believed he wanted to be, until he gave up at last and became the gambler he actually was and which no Compson seemed to realize they all were provided the gambit was desperate and the odds long enough. Succeeded at last in risking not only his neck but the security of his family and the very integrity of the name he would leave behind him, by joining the confederation headed by an acquaintance named Wilkinson (a man of considerable talent and influence and intellect and power) in a plot to secede the whole Mississippi Valley from the United States and join it to Spain. Fled in his turn when the bubble burst (as anyone except a Compson schoolteacher should have known it would), himself unique in being the only one of the plotters who had to flee the country: this not from the vengeance and retribution of the government which he had attempted to dismember, but from the furious revulsion of his late confederates now frantic for their own safety. He was not expelled from the United States, he talked himself countryless, his expulsion due not to the treason but to his having been so vocal and vociferant in the conduct of it, burning each bridge vocally behind him before he had even reached the place to build the next one: so that it was no provost marshal nor even a civic agency but his late coplotters themselves who put afoot the movement to evict him from Kentucky and the United States and, if they had caught him, probably from the world too. Fled by night, running true to family tradition, with his son and the old claymore and the tartan.

JASON LYCURGUS. Who, driven perhaps by the compulsion of the flamboyant name given him by the sardonic embittered wooden-legged indomitable father who perhaps still believed with his heart that what he wanted to be was a classicist schoolteacher, rode up the Natchez Trace one day in 1811 with a pair of fine pistols and one meagre saddlebag on a small lightwaisted but stronghocked mare which could do the first two furlongs in definitely under the halfminute and the next two in not appreciably more, though that was all. But it was enough: who reached the Chickasaw Agency at Okatoba (which in 1860 was still called Old Jefferson) and went no further. Who within six months was the Agent’s clerk and within twelve his partner, officially still the clerk though actually half-owner of what was now a considerable store stocked with the mare’s winnings in races against the horses of Ikkemotubbe’s young men which he, Compson, was always careful to limit to a quarter or at most three furlongs; and in the next year it was Ikkemotubbe who owned the little mare and Compson owned the solid square mile of land which someday would be almost in the center of the town of Jefferson, forested then and still forested twenty years later though rather a park than a forest by that time, with its slave-quarters and stables and kitchengardens and the formal lawns and promenades and pavilions laid out by the same architect who built the columned porticoed house furnished by steamboat from France and New Orleans, and still the square intact mile in 1840 (with not only the little white village called Jefferson beginning to enclose it but an entire white county about to surround it because in a few years now Ikkemotubbe’s descendants and people would be gone, those remaining living not as warriors and hunters but as white men—as shiftless farmers or, here and there, the masters of what they too called plantations and the owners of shiftless slaves, a little dirtier than the white man, a litte lazier, a little crueller—until at last even the wild blood itself would have vanished, to be seen only occasionally in the noseshape of a Negro on a cottonwagon or a white sawmill hand or trapper or locomotive fireman), known as the Compson Domain then, since now it was fit to breed princes, statesmen and generals and bishops, to avenge the dispossessed Compsons from Culloden and Carolina and Kentucky, then known as the Governor’s house because sure enough in time it did produce or at least spawn a governor—Quentin MacLachan again, after the Culloden grandfather—and still known as the Old Governor’s even after it had spawned (1861) a general—(called so by predetermined accord and agreement by the whole town and county, as though they knew even then and beforehand that the old governor was the last Compson who would not fail at everything he touched save longevity or suicide)—the Brigadier Jason Lycurgus II who failed at Shiloh in ’62 and failed again though not so badly at Resaca in ’64, who put the first mortgage on the still intact square mile to a New England carpetbagger in ’66, after the old town had been burned by the Federal General Smith and the new little town, in time to be populated mainly by the descendants not of Compsons but of Snopeses, had begun to encroach and then nibble at and into it as the failed brigadier spent the next forty years selling fragments of it off to keep up the mortgage on the remainder: until one day in 1900 he died quietly on an army cot in the hunting and fishing camp in the Tallahatchie River bottom where he passed most of the end of his days.

And even the old governor was forgotten now; what was left of the old square mile was now known merely as the Compson place—the weedchoked traces of the old ruined lawns and promenades, the house which had needed painting too long already, the scaling columns of the portico where Jason III (bred for a lawyer and indeed he kept an office upstairs above the Square, where entombed in dusty filingcases some of the oldest names in the county—Holston and Sutpen, Grenier and Beauchamp and Coldfield—faded year by year among the bottomless labyrinths of chancery: and who knows what dream in the perennial heart of his father, now completing the third of his three avatars—the one as son of a brilliant and gallant statesman, the second as battleleader of brave and gallant men, the third as a sort of privileged pseudo-Daniel Boone-Robinson Crusoe, who had not returned to juvenility because actually he had never left it—that that lawyer’s office might again be the anteroom to the governor’s mansion and the old splendor) sat all day long with a decanter of whiskey and a litter of dogeared Horaces and Livys and Catulluses, composing (it was said) caustic and satiric eulogies on both his dead and his living fellowtownsmen, who sold the last of the property, except that fragment containing the house and the kitchengarden and the collapsing stables and one servant’s cabin in which Dilsey’s family lived, to a golfclub for the ready money with which his daughter Candace could have her fine wedding in April and his son Quentin could finish one year at Harvard and commit suicide in the following June of 1910; already known as the Old Compson place even while Compsons were still living in it on that spring dusk in 1928 when the old governor’s doomed lost nameless seventeen-year-old greatgreatgranddaughter robbed her last remaining sane male relative (her uncle Jason IV) of his secret hoard of money and climbed down a rainpipe and ran off with a pitchman in a travelling streetshow, and still known as the Old Compson place long after all traces of Compsons were gone from it: after the widowed mother died and Jason IV, no longer needing to fear Dilsey now, committed his idiot brother, Benjamin, to the State Asylum in Jackson and sold the house to a countryman who operated it as a boardinghouse for juries and horse- and muletraders, and still known as the Old Compson place even after the boardinghouse (and presently the golfcourse too) had vanished and the old square mile was even intact again in row after row of small crowded jerrybuilt individuallyowned demiurban bungalows.

And these:

QUENTIN III. Who loved not his sister’s body but some concept of Compson honor precariously and (he knew well) only temporarily supported by the minute fragile membrane of her maidenhead as a miniature replica of all the whole vast globy earth may be poised on the nose of a trained seal. Who loved not the idea of the incest which he would not commit, but some presbyterian concept of its eternal punishment: he, not God, could by that means cast himself and his sister both into hell, where he could guard her forever and keep her forevermore intact amid the eternal fires. But who loved death above all, who loved only death, loved and lived in a deliberate and almost perverted anticipation of death as a lover loves and deliberately refrains from the waiting willing friendly tender incredible body of his beloved, until he can no longer bear not the refraining but the restraint and so flings, hurls himself, relinquishing, drowning. Committed suicide in Cambridge Massachusetts, June 1910, two months after his sister’s wedding, waiting first to complete the current academic year and so get the full value of his paid-in-advance tuition, not because he had his old Culloden and Carolina and Kentucky grandfathers in him but because the remaining piece of the old Compson mile which had been sold to pay for his sister’s wedding and his year at Harvard had been the one thing, excepting that same sister and the sight of an open fire, which his youngest brother, born an idiot, had loved.

CANDACE (CADDY). Doomed and knew it, accepted the doom without either seeking or fleeing it. Loved her brother despite him, loved not only him but loved in him that bitter prophet and inflexible corruptless judge of what he considered the family’s honor and its doom, as he thought he loved but really hated in her what he considered the frail doomed vessel of its pride and the foul instrument of its disgrace; not only this, she loved him not only in spite of but because of the fact that he himself was incapable of love, accepting the fact that he must value above all not her but the virginity of which she was custodian and on which she placed no value whatever: the frail physical stricture which to her was no more than a hangnail would have been. Knew the brother loved death best of all and was not jealous, would (and perhaps in the calculation and deliberation of her marriage did) have handed him the hypothetical hemlock. Was two months pregnant with another man’s child which regardless of what its sex would be she had already named Quentin after the brother whom they both (she and the brother) knew was already the same as dead, when she married (1910) an extremely eligible young Indianian she and her mother had met while vacationing at French Lick the summer before. Divorced by him 1911. Married 1920 to a minor movingpicture magnate, Hollywood California. Divorced by mutual agreement, Mexico 1925. Vanished in Paris with the German occupation, 1940, still beautiful and probably still wealthy too since she did not look within fifteen years of her actual fortyeight, and was not heard of again. Except there was a woman in Jefferson, the county librarian, a mousesized and -colored woman who had never married, who had passed through the city schools in the same class with Candace Compson and then spent the rest of her life trying to keep Forever Amber in its orderly overlapping avatars and Jurgen and Tom Jones out of the hands of the highschool juniors and seniors who could reach them down without even having to tiptoe from the back shelves where she herself would have to stand on a box to hide them. One day in 1943, after a week of a distraction bordering on disintegration almost, during which those entering the library would find her always in the act of hurriedly closing her desk drawer and turning the key in it (so that the matrons, wives of the bankers and doctors and lawyers, some of whom had also been in that old highschool class, who came and went in the afternoons with the copies of the Forever Ambers and the volumes of Thorne Smith carefully wrapped from view in sheets of Memphis and Jackson newspapers, believed she was on the verge of illness or perhaps even loss of mind) she closed and locked the library in the middle of the afternoon and with her handbag clasped tightly under her arm and two feverish spots of determination in her ordinarily colorless cheeks, she entered the farmers’ supply store where Jason IV had started as a clerk and where he now owned his own business as a buyer of and dealer in cotton, striding on through that gloomy cavern which only men ever entered—a cavern cluttered and walled and stalagmitehung with plows and discs and loops of tracechain and singletrees and mulecollars and sidemeat and cheap shoes and horseliniment and flour and molasses, gloomy because the goods it contained were not shown but hidden rather since those who supplied Mississippi farmers or at least Negro Mississippi farmers for a share of the crop did not wish, until that crop was made and its value approximately computable, to show them what they could learn to want but only to supply them on specific demand with what they could not help but need—and strode on back to Jason’s particular domain in the rear: a railed enclosure cluttered with shelves and pigeonholes bearing spiked dust-and-lintgathering gin receipts and ledgers and cottonsamples and rank with the blended smell of cheese and kerosene and harnessoil and the tremendous iron stove against which chewed tobacco had been spat for almost a hundred years, and up to the long high sloping counter behind which Jason stood and, not looking again at the overalled men who had quietly stopped talking and even chewing when she entered, with a kind of fainting desperation she opened the handbag and fumbled something out of it and laid it open on the counter and stood trembling and breathing rapidly while Jason looked down at it—a picture, a photograph in color clipped obviously from a slick magazine—a picture filled with luxury and money and sunlight—a Cannebière backdrop of mountains and palms and cypresses and the sea, an open powerful expensive chromiumtrimmed sports car, the woman’s face hatless between a rich scarf and a seal coat, ageless and beautiful, cold serene and damned; beside her a handsome lean man of middleage in the ribbons and tabs of a German staff-general—and the mousesized mousecolored spinster trembling and aghast at her own temerity, staring across it at the childless bachelor in whom ended that long line of men who had had something in them of decency and pride even after they had begun to fail at the integrity and the pride had become mostly vanity and selfpity: from the expatriate who had to flee his native land with little else except his life yet who still refused to accept defeat, through the man who gambled his life and his good name twice and lost twice and declined to accept that either, and the one who with only a clever small quarterhorse for tool avenged his dispossessed father and grandfather and gained a principality, and the brilliant and gallant governor and the general who though he failed at leading in battle brave and gallant men at least risked his own life too in the failing, to the cultured dipsomaniac who sold the last of his patrimony not to buy drink but to give one of his descendants at least the best chance in life he could think of.

‘It’s Caddy!’ the librarian whispered. ‘We must save her!’

‘It’s Cad, all right,’ Jason said. Then he began to laugh. He stood there laughing above the picture, above the cold beautiful face now creased and dogeared from its week’s sojourn in the desk drawer and the handbag. And the librarian knew why he was laughing, who had not called him anything but Mr Compson for thirty-two years now, ever since the day in 1911 when Candace, cast off by her husband, had brought her infant daughter home and left the child and departed by the next train, to return no more, and not only the Negro cook, Dilsey, but the librarian too divined by simple instinct that Jason was somehow using the child’s life and its illegitimacy both to blackmail the mother not only into staying away from Jefferson for the rest of her life but into appointing him sole unchallengeable trustee of the money she would send for the child’s maintenance, and had refused to speak to him at all since that day in 1928 when the daughter climbed down the rainpipe and ran away with the pitchman.

‘Jason!’ she cried. ‘We must save her! Jason! Jason!’——and still crying it even when he took up the picture between thumb and finger and threw it back across the counter toward her.

‘That Candace?’ he said. ‘Dont make me laugh. This bitch aint thirty yet. The other one’s fifty now.’

And the library was still locked all the next day too when at three o’clock in the afternoon, footsore and spent yet still unflagging and still clasping the handbag tightly under her arm, she turned into a neat small yard in the Negro residence section of Memphis and mounted the steps of the neat small house and rang the bell and the door opened and a black woman of about her own age looked quietly out at her. ‘It’s Frony, isn’t it?’ the librarian said. ‘Dont you remember me——Melissa Meek, from Jefferson——’

‘Yes,’ the Negress said. ‘Come in. You want to see Mama.’ And she entered the room, the neat yet cluttered bedroom of an old Negro, rank with the smell of old people, old women, old Negroes, where the old woman herself sat in a rocker beside the hearth where even though it was June a fire smoldered—a big woman once, in faded clean calico and an immaculate turban wound round her head above the bleared and now apparently almost sightless eyes—and put the dogeared clipping into the black hands which, like the women of her race, were still as supple and delicately shaped as they had been when she was thirty or twenty or even seventeen.

‘It’s Caddy!’ the librarian said. ‘It is! Dilsey! Dilsey!’

“What did he say?” the old Negress said. And the librarian knew whom she meant by ‘he’, nor did the librarian marvel, not only that the old Negress would know that she (the librarian) would know whom she meant by the ‘he’, but that the old Negress would know at once that she had already shown the picture to Jason.

‘Dont you know what he said?’ she cried. ‘When he realised she was in danger, he said it was her, even if I hadn’t even had a picture to show him. But as soon as he realised that somebody, anybody, even just me, wanted to save her, would try to save her, he said it wasn’t. But it is! Look at it!’

‘Look at my eyes,’ the old Negress said. ‘How can I see that picture?’

‘Call Frony!’ the librarian cried. ‘She will know her!’ But already the old Negress was folding the clipping carefully back into its old creases, handing it back.

‘My eyes aint any good anymore,’ she said. ‘I cant see it’

And that was all. At six oclock she fought her way through the crowded bus terminal, the bag clutched under one arm and the return half of her roundtrip ticket in the other hand, and was swept out onto the roaring platform on the diurnal tide of a few middleaged civilians but mostly soldiers and sailors enroute either to leave or to death and the homeless young women, their companions, who for two years now had lived from day to day in pullmans and hotels when they were lucky and in daycoaches and busses and stations and lobbies and public restrooms when not, pausing only long enough to drop their foals in charity wards or policestations and then move on again, and fought her way into the bus, smaller than any other there so that her feet touched the floor only occasionally until a shape (a man in khaki; she couldn’t see him at all because she was already crying) rose and picked her up bodily and set her into a seat next the window, where still crying quietly she could look out upon the fleeing city as it streaked past and then was behind and presently now she would be home again, safe in Jefferson where life lived too with all its incomprehensible passion and turmoil and grief and fury and despair, but here at six oclock you could close the covers on it and even the weightless hand of a child could put it back among its unfeatured kindred on the quiet eternal shelves and turn the key upon it for the whole and dreamless night. Yes she thought, crying quietly that was it she didn’t want to see it know whether it was Caddy or not because she knows Caddy doesn’t want to be saved hasn’t anything anymore worth being saved for nothing worth being lost that she can lose

JASON IV. The first sane Compson since before Culloden and (a childless bachelor) hence the last. Logical rational contained and even a philosopher in the old stoic tradition: thinking nothing whatever of God one way or the other and simply considering the police and so fearing and respecting only the Negro woman, his sworn enemy since his birth and his mortal one since that day in 1911 when she too divined by simple clairvoyance that he was somehow using his infant niece’s illegitimacy to blackmail its mother, who cooked the food he ate. Who not only fended off and held his own with Compsons but competed and held his own with the Snopeses who took over the little town following the turn of the century as the Compsons and Sartorises and their ilk faded from it (no Snopes, but Jason Compson himself who as soon as his mother died—the niece had already climbed down the rainpipe and vanished so Dilsey no longer had either of these clubs to hold over him—committed his idiot younger brother to the state and vacated the old house, first chopping up the vast oncesplendid rooms into what he called apartments and selling the whole thing to a countryman who opened a boardinghouse in it), though this was not difficult since to him all the rest of the town and the world and the human race too except himself were Compsons, inexplicable yet quite predictable in that they were in no sense whatever to be trusted. Who, all the money from the sale of the pasture having gone for his sister’s wedding and his brother’s course at Harvard, used his own niggard savings out of his meagre wages as a storeclerk to send himself to a Memphis school where he learned to class and grade cotton, and so established his own business with which, following his dipsomaniac father’s death, he assumed the entire burden of the rotting family in the rotting house, supporting his idiot brother because of their mother, sacrificing what pleasures might have been the right and just due and even the necessity of a thirty-year-old bachelor, so that his mother’s life might continue as nearly as possible to what it had been; this not because he loved her but (a sane man always) simply because he was afraid of the Negro cook whom he could not even force to leave, even when he tried to stop paying her weekly wages; and who despite all this, still managed to save almost three thousand dollars ($2840.50) as he reported it on the night his niece stole it in niggard and agonised dimes and quarters and halfdollars, which hoard he kept in no bank because to him a banker too was just one more Compson, but hid in a locked bureau drawer in his bedroom whose bed he made and changed himself since he kept the bedroom door locked all the time save when he was passing through it. Who, following a fumbling abortive attempt by his idiot brother on a passing female child, had himself appointed the idiot’s guardian without letting their mother know and so was able to have the creature castrated before the mother even knew it was out of the house, and who following the mother’s death in 1933 was able to free himself forever not only from the idiot brother and the house but from the Negro woman too, moving into a pair of offices up a flight of stairs above the supplystore containing his cotton ledgers and samples, which he had converted into a bedroom-kitchen-bath, in and out of which on weekends there would be seen a big plain friendly brazenhaired pleasantfaced woman no longer very young, in round picture hats and (in its season) an imitation fur coat, the two of them, the middleaged cottonbuyer and the woman whom the town called, simply, his friend from Memphis, seen at the local picture show on Saturday night and on Sunday morning mounting the apartment stairs with paper bags from the grocer’s containing loaves and eggs and oranges and cans of soup, domestic, uxorious, connubial, until the late afternoon bus carried her back to Memphis. He was emancipated now. He was free. ‘In 1865,’ he would say, ‘Abe Lincoln freed the niggers from the Compsons. In 1933, Jason Compson freed the Compsons from the niggers.’

BENJAMIN. Born Maury, after his mother’s only brother: a handsome flashing swaggering workless bachelor who borrowed money from almost anyone, even Dilsey although she was a Negro, explaining to her as he withdrew his hand from his pocket that she was not only in his eyes the same as a member of his sister’s family, she would be considered a born lady anywhere in any eyes. Who, when at last even his mother realised what he was and insisted weeping that his name must be changed, was rechristened Benjamin by his brother Quentin (Benjamin, our lastborn, sold into Egypt). Who loved three things: the pasture which was sold to pay for Candace’s wedding and to send Quentin to Harvard, his sister Candace, firelight. Who lost none of them because he could not remember his sister but only the loss of her, and firelight was the same bright shape as going to sleep, and the pasture was even better sold than before because now he and TP could not only follow timeless along the fence the motions which it did not even matter to him were humanbeings swinging golfsticks, TP could lead them to clumps of grass or weeds where there would appear suddenly in TP’s hand small white spherules which competed with and even conquered what he did not even know was gravity and all the immutable laws when released from the hand toward plank floor or smokehouse wall or concrete sidewalk. Gelded 1913. Committed to the State Asylum, Jackson 1933. Lost nothing then either because, as with his sister, he remembered not the pasture but only its loss, and firelight was still the same bright shape of sleep.

QUENTIN. The last. Candace’s daughter. Fatherless nine months before her birth, nameless at birth and already doomed to be unwed from the instant the dividing egg determined its sex. Who at seventeen, on the one thousand eight hundred ninetyfifth anniversary of the day before the resurrection of Our Lord, swung herself by a rainpipe from the window of the room in which her uncle had locked her at noon, to the locked window of his own locked and empty bedroom and broke a pane and entered the window and with the uncle’s firepoker burst open the locked bureau drawer and took the money (it was not $2840.50 either, it was almost seven thousand dollars and this was Jason’s rage, the red unbearable fury which on that night and at intervals recurring with little or no diminishment for the next five years, made him seriously believe would at some unwarned instant destroy him, kill him as instantaneously dead as a bullet or a lightningbolt: that although he had been robbed not of a mere petty three thousand dollars but of almost seven thousand he couldn’t even tell anybody; because he had been robbed of seven thousand dollars instead of just three he could not only never receive justification—he did not want sympathy—from other men unlucky enough to have one bitch for a sister and another for a niece, he couldn’t even go to the police; because he had lost four thousand dollars which did not belong to him he couldn’t even recover the three thousand which did since those first four thousand dollars were not only the legal property of his niece as a part of the money supplied for her support and maintenance by her mother over the last sixteen years, they did not exist at all, having been officially recorded as expended and consumed in the annual reports he submitted to the district Chancellor, as required of him as guardian and trustee by his bondsmen: so that he had been robbed not only of his thievings but his savings too, and by his own victim; he had been robbed not only of the four thousand dollars which he had risked jail to acquire but of the three thousand which he had hoarded at the price of sacrifice and denial, almost a nickel and a dime at a time, over a period of almost twenty years: and this not only by his own victim but by a child who did it at one blow, without premeditation or plan, not even knowing or even caring how much she would find when she broke the drawer open; and now he couldn’t even go to the police for help: he who had considered the police always, never given them any trouble, had paid the taxes for years which supported them in parasitic and sadistic idleness; not only that, he didn’t dare pursue the girl himself because he might catch her and she would talk, so that his only recourse was a vain dream which kept him tossing and sweating on nights two and three and even four years after the event, when he should have forgotten about it: of catching her without warning, springing on her out of the dark, before she had spent all the money, and murder her before she had time to open her mouth) and climbed down the same rainpipe in the dusk and ran away with the pitchman who was already under sentence for bigamy. And so vanished; whatever occupation overtook her would have arrived in no chromium Mercedes; whatever snapshot would have contained no general of staff.

And that was all. These others were not Compsons. They were black:

T. P. Who wore on Memphis’s Beale Street the fine bright cheap intransigent clothes manufactured specifically for him by the owners of Chicago and New York sweatshops.

FRONY. Who married a pullman porter and went to St Louis to live and later moved back to Memphis to make a home for her mother since Dilsey refused to go further than that.

LUSTER. A man, aged 14. Who was not only capable of the complete care and security of an idiot twice his age and three times his size, but could keep him entertained.


They endured.

The Bear


There was a man and a dog too this time. Two beasts, counting Old Ben, the bear, and two men, counting Boon Hogganbeck, in whom some of the same blood ran which ran in Sam Fathers, even though Boon’s was a plebeian strain of it and only Sam and Old Ben and the mongrel Lion were taintless and incorruptible.

He was sixteen. For six years now he had been a man’s hunter. For six years now he had heard the best of all talking. It was of the wilderness, the big woods, bigger and older than any recorded document:—of white man fatuous enough to believe he had bought any fragment of it, of Indian ruthless enough to pretend that any fragment of it had been his to convey; bigger than Major de Spain and the scrap he pretended to, knowing better; older than old Thomas Sutpen of whom Major de Spain had had it and who knew better; older even than old Ikkemotubbe, the Chickasaw chief, of whom old Sutpen had had it and who knew better in his turn. It was of the men, not white nor black nor red but men, hunters, with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, and the dogs and the bear and deer juxtaposed and reliefed against it, ordered and compelled by and within the wilderness in the ancient and unremitting contest according to the ancient and immitigable rules which voided all regrets and brooked no quarter;—the best game of all, the best of all breathing and forever the best of all listening, the voices quiet and weighty and deliberate for retrospection and recollection and exactitude among the concrete trophies—the racked guns and the heads and skins—in the libraries of town houses or the offices of plantation houses or (and best of all) in the camps themselves where the intact and still-warm meat yet hung, the men who had slain it sitting before the burning logs on hearths when there were houses and hearths or about the smoky blazing of piled wood in front of stretched tarpaulins when there were not. There was always a bottle present, so that it would seem to him that those fine fierce instants of heart and brain and courage and wiliness and speed were concentrated and distilled into that brown liquor which not women, not boys and children, but only hunters drank, drinking not of the blood they spilled but some condensation of the wild immortal spirit, drinking it moderately, humbly even, not with the pagan’s base and baseless hope of acquiring thereby the virtues of cunning and strength and speed but in salute to them. Thus it seemed to him on this December morning not only natural but actually fitting that this should have begun with whisky.

He realised later that it had begun long before that. It had already begun on that day when he first wrote his age in two ciphers and his cousin McCaslin brought him for the first time to the camp, the big woods, to earn for himself from the wilderness the name and state of hunter provided he in his turn were humble and enduring enough. He had already inherited then, without ever having seen it, the big old bear with one trap-ruined foot that in an area almost a hundred miles square had earned for himself a name, a definite designation like a living man:—the long legend of corn-cribs broken down and rifled, of shoats and grown pigs and even calves carried bodily into the woods and devoured and traps and deadfalls overthrown and dogs mangled and slain and shotgun and even rifle shots delivered at point-blank range yet with no more effect than so many peas blown through a tube by a child—a corridor of wreckage and destruction beginning back before the boy was born, through which sped, not fast but rather with the ruthless and irresistible deliberation of a locomotive, the shaggy tremendous shape. It ran in his knowledge before he ever saw it. It loomed and towered in his dreams before he even saw the unaxed woods where it left its crooked print, shaggy, tremendous, red-eyed, not malevolent but just big, too big for the dogs which tried to bay it, for the horses which tried to ride it down, for the men and the bullets they fired into it; too big for the very country which was its constricting scope. It was as if the boy had already divined what his senses and intellect had not encompassed yet: that doomed wilderness whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with plows and axes who feared it because it was wilderness, men myriad and nameless even to one another in the land where the old bear had earned a name, and through which ran not even a mortal beast but an anachronism indomitable and invincible out of an old dead time, a phantom, epitome and apotheosis of the old wild life which the little puny humans swarmed and hacked at in a fury of abhorrence and fear like pygmies about the ankles of a drowsing elephant;—the old bear, solitary, indomitable, and alone; widowered childless and absolved of mortality—old Priam reft of his old wife and outlived all his sons.

Still a child, with three years then two years then one year yet before he too could make one of them, each November he would watch the wagon containing the dogs and the bedding and food and guns and his cousin McCaslin and Tennie’s Jim and Sam Fathers too until Sam moved to the camp to live, depart for the Big Bottom, the big woods. To him, they were going not to hunt bear and deer but to keep yearly rendezvous with the bear which they did not even intend to kill. Two weeks later they would return, with no trophy, no skin. He had not expected it. He had not even feared that it might be in the wagon this time with the other skins and heads. He did not even tell himself that in three years or two years or one year more he would be present and that it might even be his gun. He believed that only after he had served his apprenticeship in the woods which would prove him worthy to be a hunter, would he even be permitted to distinguish the crooked print, and that even then for two November weeks he would merely make another minor one, along with his cousin and Major de Spain and General Compson and Walter Ewell and Boon and the dogs which feared to bay it and the shotguns and rifles which failed even to bleed it, in the yearly pageant-rite of the old bear’s furious immortality.

His day came at last. In the surrey with his cousin and Major de Spain and General Compson he saw the wilderness through a slow drizzle of November rain just above the ice point as it seemed to him later he always saw it or at least always remembered it—the tall and endless wall of dense November woods under the dissolving afternoon and the year’s death, sombre, impenetrable (he could not even discern yet how, at what point they could possibly hope to enter it even though he knew that Sam Fathers was waiting there with the wagon), the surrey moving through the skeleton stalks of cotton and corn in the last of open country, the last trace of man’s puny gnawing at the immemorial flank, until, dwarfed by that perspective into an almost ridiculous diminishment, the surrey itself seemed to have ceased to move (this too to be completed later, years later, after he had grown to a man and had seen the sea) as a solitary small boat hangs in lonely immobility, merely tossing up and down, in the infinite waste of the ocean while the water and then the apparently impenetrable land which it nears without appreciable progress, swings slowly and opens the widening inlet which is the anchorage. He entered it. Sam was waiting, wrapped in a quilt on the wagon seat behind the patient and steaming mules. He entered his novitiate to the true wilderness with Sam beside him as he had begun his apprenticeship in miniature to manhood after the rabbits and such with Sam beside him, the two of them wrapped in the damp, warm Negro-rank quilt while the wilderness closed behind his entrance as it had opened momentarily to accept him, opening before his advancement as it closed behind his progress, no fixed path the wagon followed but a channel nonexistent ten yards ahead of it and ceasing to exist ten yards after it had passed, the wagon progressing not by its own volition but by attrition of their intact yet fluid circumambience, drowsing, earless, almost lightless.

It seemed to him that at the age of ten he was witnessing his own birth. It was not even strange to him. He had experienced it all before, and not merely in dreams. He saw the camp—a paintless six-room bungalow set on piles above the spring high-water—and he knew already how it was going to look. He helped in the rapid orderly disorder of their establishment in it and even his motions were familiar to him, foreknown. Then for two weeks he ate the coarse, rapid food—the shapeless sour bread, the wild strange meat, venison and bear and turkey and coon which he had never tasted before—which men ate, cooked by men who were hunters first and cooks afterward; he slept in harsh sheetless blankets as hunters slept. Each morning the gray of dawn found him and Sam Fathers on the stand, the crossing, which had been allotted him. It was the poorest one, the most barren. He had expected that; he had not dared yet to hope even to himself that he would even hear the running dogs this first time. But he did hear them. It was on the third morning—a murmur, sourceless, almost indistinguishable, yet he knew what it was although he had never before heard that many dogs running at once, the murmur swelling into separate and distinct voices until he could call the five dogs which his cousin owned from among the others. “Now,” Sam said, “slant your gun up a little and draw back the hammers and then stand still.”

But it was not for him, not yet. The humility was there; he had learned that. And he could learn the patience. He was only ten, only one week. The instant had passed. It seemed to him that he could actually see the deer, the buck, smoke-colored, elongated with speed, vanished, the woods, the gray solitude still ringing even when the voices of the dogs had died away; from far away across the sombre woods and the gray half-liquid morning there came two shots. “Now let your hammers down,” Sam said.

He did so. “You knew it too,” he said.

“Yes,” Sam said. “I want you to learn how to do when you didn’t shoot. It’s after the chance for the bear or the deer has done already come and gone that men and dogs get killed.”

“Anyway, it wasn’t him,” the boy said. “It wasn’t even a bear. It was just a deer.”

“Yes,” Sam said, “it was just a deer.”

Then one morning, it was in the second week, he heard the dogs again. This time before Sam even spoke he readied the too-long, too-heavy, man-size gun as Sam had taught him, even though this time he knew the dogs and the deer were coming less close than ever, hardly within hearing even. They didn’t sound like any running dogs he had ever heard before even. Then he found that Sam, who had taught him first of all to cock the gun and take position where he could see best in all directions and then never to move again, had himself moved up beside him. “There,” he said. “Listen.” The boy listened, to no ringing chorus strong and fast on a free scent but a moiling yapping an octave too high and with something more than indecision and even abjectness in it which he could not yet recognise, reluctant, not even moving very fast, taking a long time to pass out of hearing, leaving even then in the air that echo of thin and almost human hysteria, abject, almost humanly grieving, with this time nothing ahead of it, no sense of a fleeing unseen smoke-colored shape. He could hear Sam breathing at his shoulder. He saw the arched curve of the old man’s inhaling nostrils.

“It’s Old Ben!” he cried, whispering.

Sam didn’t move save for the slow gradual turning of his head as the voices faded on and the faint steady rapid arch and collapse of his nostrils. “Hah,” he said. “Not even running. Walking.”

“But up here!” the boy cried. “Way up here!”

“He do it every year,” Sam said. “Once. Ash and Boon say he comes up here to run the other little bears away. Tell them to get to hell out of here and stay out until the hunters are gone. Maybe.” The boy no longer heard anything at all, yet still Sam’s head continued to turn gradually and steadily until the back of it was toward him. Then it turned back and looked down at him—the same face, grave, familiar, expressionless until it smiled, the same old man’s eyes from which as he watched there faded slowly a quality darkly and fiercely lambent, passionate and proud. “He dont care no more for bears than he does for dogs or men neither. He come to see who’s here, who’s new in camp this year, whether he can shoot or not, can stay or not. Whether we got the dog yet that can bay and hold him until a man gets there with a gun. Because he’s the head bear. He’s the man.” It faded, was gone; again they were the eyes as he had known them all his life. “He’ll let them follow him to the river. Then he’ll send them home. We might as well go too; see how they look when they get back to camp.”

The dogs were there first, ten of them huddled back under the kitchen, himself and Sam squatting to peer back into the obscurity where they crouched, quiet, the eyes rolling and luminous, vanishing, and no sound, only that effluvium which the boy could not quite place yet, of something more than dog, stronger than dog and not just animal, just beast even. Because there had been nothing in front of the abject and painful yapping except the solitude, the wilderness, so that when the eleventh hound got back about midafternoon and he and Tennie’s Jim held the passive and still trembling bitch while Sam daubed her tattered ear and raked shoulder with turpentine and axle-grease, it was still no living creature but only the wilderness which, leaning for a moment, had patted lightly once her temerity. “Just like a man,” Sam said. “Just like folks. Put off as long as she could having to be brave, knowing all the time that sooner or later she would have to be brave once so she could keep on calling herself a dog, and knowing beforehand what was going to happen when she done it.”

He did not know just when Sam left. He only knew that he was gone. For the next three mornings he rose and ate breakfast and Sam was not waiting for him. He went to his stand alone; he found it without help now and stood on it as Sam had taught him. On the third morning he heard the dogs again, running strong and free on a true scent again, and he readied the gun as he had learned to do and heard the hunt sweep past on since he was not ready yet, had not deserved other yet in just one short period of two weeks as compared to all the long life which he had already dedicated to the wilderness with patience and humility; he heard the shot again, one shot, the single clapping report of Walter Ewell’s rifle. By now he could not only find his stand and then return to camp without guidance, by using the compass his cousin had given him he reached Walter waiting beside the buck and the moiling of dogs over the cast entrails before any of the others except Major de Spain and Tennie’s Jim on the horses, even before Uncle Ash arrived with the one-eyed wagon-mule which did not mind the smell of blood or even, so they said, of bear.

It was not Uncle Ash on the mule. It was Sam, returned. And Sam was waiting when he finished his dinner and, himself on the one-eyed mule and Sam on the other one of the wagon team, they rode for more than three hours through the rapid shortening sunless afternoon, following no path, no trail even that he could discern, into a section of country he had never seen before. Then he understood why Sam had made him ride the one-eyed mule which would not spook at the smell of blood, of wild animals. The other one, the sound one, stopped short and tried to whirl and bolt even as Sam got down, jerking and wrenching at the rein while Sam held it, coaxing it forward with his voice since he did not dare risk hitching it, drawing it forward while the boy dismounted from the marred one which would stand. Then, standing beside Sam in the thick great gloom of ancient woods and the winter’s dying afternoon, he looked quietly down at the rotted log scored and gutted with claw-marks and, in the wet earth beside it, the print of the enormous warped two-toed foot. Now he knew what he had heard in the hounds’ voices in the woods that morning and what he had smelled when he peered under the kitchen where they huddled. It was in him too, a little different because they were brute beasts and he was not, but only a little different—an eagerness, passive; an abjectness, a sense of his own fragility and impotence against the timeless woods, yet without doubt or dread; a flavor like brass in the sudden run of saliva in his mouth, a hard sharp constriction either in his brain or his stomach, he could not tell which and it did not matter; he knew only that for the first time he realised that the bear which had run in his listening and loomed in his dreams since before he could remember and which therefore must have existed in the listening and the dreams of his cousin and Major de Spain and even old General Compson before they began to remember in their turn, was a mortal animal and that they had departed for the camp each November with no actual intention of slaying it, not because it could not be slain but because so far they had no actual hope of being able to. “It will be tomorrow,” he said.

“You mean we will try tomorrow,” Sam said. “We aint got the dog yet.”

“We’ve got eleven,” he said. “They ran him Monday.”

“And you heard them,” Sam said. “Saw them too. We aint got the dog yet. It wont take but one. But he aint there. Maybe he aint nowhere. The only other way will be for him to run by accident over somebody that had a gun and knowed how to shoot it.”

“That wouldn’t be me,” the boy said. “It would be Walter or Major or——”

“It might,” Sam said. “You watch close tomorrow. Because he’s smart. That’s how come he has lived this long. If he gets hemmed up and has got to pick out somebody to run over, he will pick out you.”

“How?” he said. “How will he know. . . .” He ceased. “You mean he already knows me, that I aint never been to the big bottom before, aint had time to find out yet whether I . . .” He ceased again, staring at Sam; he said humbly, not even amazed: “It was me he was watching. I dont reckon he did need to come but once.”

“You watch tomorrow,” Sam said. “I reckon we better start back. It’ll be long after dark now before we get to camp.”

The next morning they started three hours earlier than they had ever done. Even Uncle Ash went, the cook, who called himself by profession a camp cook and who did little else save cook for Major de Spain’s hunting and camping parties, yet who had been marked by the wilderness from simple juxtaposition to it until he responded as they all did, even the boy who until two weeks ago had never even seen the wilderness, to a hound’s ripped ear and shoulder and the print of a crooked foot in a patch of wet earth. They rode. It was too far to walk: the boy and Sam and Uncle Ash in the wagon with the dogs, his cousin and Major de Spain and General Compson and Boon and Walter and Tennie’s Jim riding double on the horses; again the first gray light found him, as on that first morning two weeks ago, on the stand where Sam had placed and left him. With the gun which was too big for him, the breech-loader which did not even belong to him but to Major de Spain and which he had fired only once, at a stump on the first day to learn the recoil and how to reload it with the paper shells, he stood against a big gum tree beside a little bayou whose black still water crept without motion out of a cane-brake, across a small clearing and into the cane again, where, invisible, a bird, the big woodpecker called Lord-to-God by Negroes, clattered at a dead trunk. It was a stand like any other stand, dissimilar only in incidentals to the one where he had stood each morning for two weeks; a territory new to him yet no less familiar than that other one which after two weeks he had come to believe he knew a little—the same solitude, the same loneliness through which frail and timorous man had merely passed without altering it, leaving no mark nor scar, which looked exactly as it must have looked when the first ancestor of Sam Fathers’ Chickasaw predecessors crept into it and looked about him, club or stone axe or bone arrow drawn and ready, different only because, squatting at the edge of the kitchen, he had smelled the dogs huddled and cringing beneath it and saw the raked ear and side of the bitch that, as Sam had said, had to be brave once in order to keep on calling herself a dog, and saw yesterday in the earth beside the gutted log, the print of the living foot. He heard no dogs at all. He never did certainly hear them. He only heard the drumming of the woodpecker stop short off, and knew that the bear was looking at him. He never saw it. He did not know whether it was facing him from the cane or behind him. He did not move, holding the useless gun which he knew now he would never fire at it, now or ever, tasting in his saliva that taint of brass which he had smelled in the huddled dogs when he peered under the kitchen.

Then it was gone. As abruptly as it had stopped, the woodpecker’s dry hammering set up again, and after a while he believed he even heard the dogs—a murmur, scarce a sound even, which he had probably been hearing for a time, perhaps a minute or two, before he remarked it, drifting into hearing and then out again, dying away. They came nowhere near him. If it was dogs he heard, he could not have sworn to it; if it was a bear they ran, it was another bear. It was Sam himself who emerged from the cane and crossed the bayou, the injured bitch following at heel as a bird dog is taught to walk. She came and crouched against his leg, trembling. “I didn’t see him,” he said. “I didn’t, Sam.”

“I know it,” Sam said. “He done the looking. You didn’t hear him neither, did you?”

“No,” the boy said. “I——”

“He’s smart,” Sam said. “Too smart.” Again the boy saw in his eyes that quality of dark and brooding lambence as Sam looked down at the bitch trembling faintly and steadily against the boy’s leg. From her raked shoulder a few drops of fresh blood clung like bright berries. “Too big. We aint got the dog yet. But maybe some day.”

Because there would be a next time, after and after. He was only ten. It seemed to him that he could see them, the two of them, shadowy in the limbo from which time emerged and became time: the old bear absolved of mortality and himself who shared a little of it. Because he recognised now what he had smelled in the huddled dogs and tasted in his own saliva, recognised fear as a boy, a youth, recognises the existence of love and passion and experience which is his heritage but not yet his patrimony, from entering by chance the presence or perhaps even merely the bedroom of a woman who has loved and been loved by many men. So I will have to see him, he thought, without dread or even hope. I will have to look at him. So it was in June of the next summer. They were at the camp again, celebrating Major de Spain’s and General Compson’s birthdays. Although the one had been born in September and the other in the depth of winter and almost thirty years earlier, each June the two of them and McCaslin and Boon and Walter Ewell (and the boy too from now on) spent two weeks at the camp, fishing and shooting squirrels and turkey and running coons and wildcats with the dogs at night. That is, Boon and the Negroes (and the boy too now) fished and shot squirrels and ran the coons and cats, because the proven hunters, not only Major de Spain and old General Compson (who spent those two weeks sitting in a rocking chair before a tremendous iron pot of Brunswick stew, stirring and tasting, with Uncle Ash to quarrel with about how he was making it and Tennie’s Jim to pour whisky into the tin dipper from which he drank it) but even McCaslin and Walter Ewell who were still young enough, scorned such other than shooting the wild gobblers with pistols for wagers or to test their marksmanship.

That is, his cousin McCaslin and the others thought he was hunting squirrels. Until the third evening he believed that Sam Fathers thought so too. Each morning he would leave the camp right after breakfast. He had his own gun now, a new breech-loader, a Christmas gift; he would own and shoot it for almost seventy years, through two new pairs of barrels and locks and one new stock, until all that remained of the original gun was the silver-inlaid trigger-guard with his and McCaslin’s engraved names and the date in 1878. He found the tree beside the little bayou where he had stood that morning. Using the compass he ranged from that point; he was teaching himself to be better than a fair woodsman without even knowing he was doing it. On the third day he even found the gutted log where he had first seen the print. It was almost completely crumbled now, healing with unbelievable speed, a passionate and almost visible relinquishment, back into the earth from which the tree had grown. He ranged the summer woods now, green with gloom, if anything actually dimmer than they had been in November’s gray dissolution, where even at noon the sun fell only in windless dappling upon the earth which never completely dried and which crawled with snakes—moccasins and watersnakes and rattlers, themselves the color of the dappled gloom so that he would not always see them until they moved; returning to camp later and later and later, first day, second day, passing in the twilight of the third evening the little log pen enclosing the log barn where Sam was putting up the stock for the night. “You aint looked right yet,” Sam said.

He stopped. For a moment he didn’t answer. Then he said peacefully, in a peaceful rushing burst, as when a boy’s miniature dam in a little brook gives way: “All right. Yes. But how? I went to the bayou. I even found that log again. I——”

“I reckon that was all right. Likely he’s been watching you. You never saw his foot?”

“I . . .” the boy said. “I didn’t . . . I never thought . . .”

“It’s the gun,” Sam said. He stood beside the fence, motionless, the old man, son of a Negro slave and a Chickasaw chief, in the battered and faded overalls and the frayed five-cent straw hat which had been the badge of the Negro’s slavery and was now the regalia of his freedom. The camp—the clearing, the house, the barn and its tiny lot with which Major de Spain in his turn had scratched punily and evanescently at the wilderness—faded in the dusk, back into the immemorial darkness of the woods. The gun, the boy thought. The gun. “You will have to choose,” Sam said.

He left the next morning before light, without breakfast, long before Uncle Ash would wake in his quilts on the kitchen floor and start the fire. He had only the compass and a stick for the snakes. He could go almost a mile before he would need to see the compass. He sat on a log, the invisible compass in his hand, while the secret night-sounds which had ceased at his movements, scurried again and then fell still for good and the owls ceased and gave over to the waking day birds and there was light in the gray wet woods and he could see the compass. He went fast yet still quietly, becoming steadily better and better as a woodsman without yet having time to realise it; he jumped a doe and a fawn, walked them out of the bed, close enough to see them—the crash of undergrowth, the white scut, the fawn scudding along behind her, faster than he had known it could have run. He was hunting right, upwind, as Sam had taught him, but that didn’t matter now. He had left the gun; by his own will and relinquishment he had accepted not a gambit, not a choice, but a condition in which not only the bear’s heretofore inviolable anonymity but all the ancient rules and balances of hunter and hunted had been abrogated. He would not even be afraid, not even in the moment when the fear would take him completely: blood, skin, bowels, bones, memory from the long time before it even became his memory—all save that thin clear quenchless lucidity which alone differed him from this bear and from all the other bears and bucks he would follow during almost seventy years, to which Sam had said: “Be scared. You cant help that. But dont be afraid. Aint nothing in the woods going to hurt you if you dont corner it or it dont smell that you are afraid. A bear or a deer has got to be scared of a coward the same as a brave man has got to be.”

By noon he was far beyond the crossing on the little bayou, farther into the new and alien country than he had ever been, travelling now not only by the compass but by the old, heavy, biscuit-thick silver watch which had been his father’s. He had left the camp nine hours ago; nine hours from now, dark would already have been an hour old. He stopped, for the first time since he had risen from the log when he could see the compass face at last, and looked about, mopping his sweating face on his sleeve. He had already relinquished, of his will, because of his need, in humility and peace and without regret, yet apparently that had not been enough, the leaving of the gun was not enough. He stood for a moment—a child, alien and lost in the green and soaring gloom of the markless wilderness. Then he relinquished completely to it. It was the watch and the compass. He was still tainted. He removed the linked chain of the one and the looped thong of the other from his overalls and hung them on a bush and leaned the stick beside them and entered it.

When he realised he was lost, he did as Sam had coached and drilled him: made a cast to cross his backtrack. He had not been going very fast for the last two or three hours, and he had gone even less fast since he left the compass and watch on the bush. So he went slower still now, since the tree could not be very far; in fact, he found it before he really expected to and turned and went to it. But there was no bush beneath it, no compass nor watch, so he did next as Sam had coached and drilled him: made this next circle in the opposite direction and much larger, so that the pattern of the two of them would bisect his track somewhere, but crossing no trace nor mark anywhere of his feet or any feet, and now he was going faster though still not panicked, his heart beating a little more rapidly but strong and steady enough, and this time it was not even the tree because there was a down log beside it which he had never seen before and beyond the log a little swamp, a seepage of moisture somewhere between earth and water, and he did what Sam had coached and drilled him as the next and the last, seeing as he sat down on the log the crooked print, the warped indentation in the wet ground which while he looked at it continued to fill with water until it was level full and the water began to overflow and the sides of the print began to dissolve away. Even as he looked up he saw the next one, and, moving, the one beyond it; moving, not hurrying, running, but merely keeping pace with them as they appeared before him as though they were being shaped out of thin air just one constant pace short of where he would lose them forever and be lost forever himself, tireless, eager, without doubt or dread, panting a little above the strong rapid little hammer of his heart, emerging suddenly into a little glade and the wilderness coalesced. It rushed, soundless, and solidified—the tree, the bush, the compass and the watch glinting where a ray of sunlight touched them. Then he saw the bear. It did not emerge, appear: it was just there, immobile, fixed in the green and windless noon’s hot dappling, not as big as he had dreamed it but as big as he had expected, bigger, dimensionless against the dappled obscurity, looking at him. Then it moved. It crossed the glade without haste, walking for an instant into the sun’s full glare and out of it, and stopped again and looked back at him across one shoulder. Then it was gone. It didn’t walk into the woods. It faded, sank back into the wilderness without motion as he had watched a fish, a huge old bass, sink back into the dark depths of its pool and vanish without even any movement of its fins.


So he should have hated and feared Lion. He was thirteen then. He had killed his buck and Sam Fathers had marked his face with the hot blood, and in the next November he killed a bear. But before that accolade he had become as competent in the woods as many grown men with the same experience. By now he was a better woodsman than most grown men with more. There was no territory within twenty-five miles of the camp that he did not know—bayou, ridge, landmark trees and path; he could have led anyone direct to any spot in it and brought him back. He knew game trails that even Sam Fathers had never seen; in the third fall he found a buck’s bedding-place by himself and unbeknown to his cousin he borrowed Walter Ewell’s rifle and lay in wait for the buck at dawn and killed it when it walked back to the bed as Sam had told him how the old Chickasaw fathers did.

By now he knew the old bear’s footprint better than he did his own, and not only the crooked one. He could see any one of the three sound prints and distinguish it at once from any other, and not only because of its size. There were other bears within that fifty miles which left tracks almost as large, or at least so near that the one would have appeared larger only by juxtaposition. It was more than that. If Sam Fathers had been his mentor and the backyard rabbits and squirrels his kindergarten, then the wilderness the old bear ran was his college and the old male bear itself, so long unwifed and childless as to have become its own ungendered progenitor, was his alma mater.

He could find the crooked print now whenever he wished, ten miles or five miles or sometimes closer than that, to the camp. Twice while on stand during the next three years he heard the dogs strike its trail and once even jump it by chance, the voices high, abject, almost human in their hysteria. Once, still-hunting with Walter Ewell’s rifle, he saw it cross a long corridor of down timber where a tornado had passed. It rushed through rather than across the tangle of trunks and branches as a locomotive would, faster than he had ever believed it could have moved, almost as fast as a deer even because the deer would have spent most of that distance in the air; he realised then why it would take a dog not only of abnormal courage but size and speed too ever to bring it to bay. He had a little dog at home, a mongrel, of the sort called fyce by Negroes, a ratter, itself not much bigger than a rat and possessing that sort of courage which had long since stopped being bravery and had become foolhardiness. He brought it with him one June and, timing them as if they were meeting an appointment with another human being, himself carrying the fyce with a sack over its head and Sam Fathers with a brace of the hounds on a rope leash, they lay downwind of the trail and actually ambushed the bear. They were so close that it turned at bay although he realised later this might have been from surprise and amazement at the shrill and frantic uproar of the fyce. It turned at bay against the trunk of a big cypress, on its hind feet; it seemed to the boy that it would never stop rising, taller and taller, and even the two hounds seemed to have taken a kind of desperate and despairing courage from the fyce. Then he realised that the fyce was actually not going to stop. He flung the gun down and ran. When he overtook and grasped the shrill, frantically pinwheeling little dog, it seemed to him that he was directly under the bear. He could smell it, strong and hot and rank. Sprawling, he looked up where it loomed and towered over him like a thunderclap. It was quite familiar, until he remembered: this was the way he had used to dream about it.

Then it was gone. He didn’t see it go. He knelt, holding the frantic fyce with both hands, hearing the abased wailing of the two hounds drawing further and further away, until Sam came up, carrying the gun. He laid it quietly down beside the boy and stood looking down at him. “You’ve done seed him twice now, with a gun in your hands,” he said. “This time you couldn’t have missed him.”

The boy rose. He still held the fyce. Even in his arms it continued to yap frantically, surging and straining toward the fading sound of the hounds like a collection of live-wire springs. The boy was panting a little. “Neither could you,” he said. “You had the gun. Why didn’t you shoot him?”

Sam didn’t seem to have heard. He put out his hand and touched the little dog in the boy’s arms which still yapped and strained even though the two hounds were out of hearing now. “He’s done gone,” Sam said. “You can slack off and rest now, until next time.” He stroked the little dog until it began to grow quiet under his hand. “You’s almost the one we wants,” he said. “You just aint big enough. We aint got that one yet. He will need to be just a little bigger than smart, and a little braver than either.” He withdrew his hand from the fyce’s head and stood looking into the woods where the bear and the hounds had vanished. “Somebody is going to, some day.”

“I know it,” the boy said. “That’s why it must be one of us. So it wont be until the last day. When even he dont want it to last any longer.”

So he should have hated and feared Lion. It was in the fourth summer, the fourth time he had made one in the celebration of Major de Spain’s and General Compson’s birthday. In the early spring Major de Spain’s mare had foaled a horse colt. One evening when Sam brought the horses and mules up to stable them for the night, the colt was missing and it was all he could do to get the frantic mare into the lot. He had thought at first to let the mare lead him back to where she had become separated from the foal. But she would not do it. She would not even feint toward any particular part of the woods or even in any particular direction. She merely ran, as if she couldn’t see, still frantic with terror. She whirled and ran at Sam once, as if to attack him in some ultimate desperation, as if she could not for the moment realise that he was a man and a long-familiar one. He got her into the lot at last. It was too dark by that time to back-track her, to unravel the erratic course she had doubtless pursued.

He came to the house and told Major de Spain. It was an animal, of course, a big one, and the colt was dead now, wherever it was. They all knew that. “It’s a panther,” General Compson said at once. “The same one. That doe and fawn last March.” Sam had sent Major de Spain word of it when Boon Hogganbeck came to the camp on a routine visit to see how the stock had wintered—the doe’s throat torn out, and the beast had run down the helpless fawn and killed it too.

“Sam never did say that was a panther,” Major de Spain said. Sam said nothing now, standing behind Major de Spain where they sat at supper, inscrutable, as if he were just waiting for them to stop talking so he could go home. He didn’t even seem to be looking at anything. “A panther might jump a doe, and he wouldn’t have much trouble catching the fawn afterward. But no panther would have jumped that colt with the dam right there with it. It was Old Ben,” Major de Spain said. “I’m disappointed in him. He has broken the rules. I didn’t think he would have done that. He has killed mine and McCaslin’s dogs, but that was all right. We gambled the dogs against him; we gave each other warning. But now he has come into my house and destroyed my property, out of season too. He broke the rules. It was Old Ben, Sam.” Still Sam said nothing, standing there until Major de Spain should stop talking. “We’ll back-track her tomorrow and see,” Major de Spain said.

Sam departed. He would not live in the camp; he had built himself a little hut something like Joe Baker’s, only stouter, tighter, on the bayou a quarter-mile away, and a stout log crib where he stored a little corn for the shoat he raised each year. The next morning he was waiting when they waked. He had already found the colt. They did not even wait for breakfast. It was not far, not five hundred yards from the stable—the three-months’ colt lying on its side, its throat torn out and the entrails and one ham partly eaten. It lay not as if it had been dropped but as if it had been struck and hurled, and no cat-mark, no claw-mark where a panther would have gripped it while finding its throat. They read the tracks where the frantic mare had circled and at last rushed in with that same ultimate desperation with which she had whirled on Sam Fathers yesterday evening, and the long tracks of dead and terrified running and those of the beast which had not even rushed at her when she advanced but had merely walked three or four paces toward her until she broke, and General Compson said, “Good God, what a wolf!”

Still Sam said nothing. The boy watched him while the men knelt, measuring the tracks. There was something in Sam’s face now. It was neither exultation nor joy nor hope. Later, a man, the boy realised what it had been, and that Sam had known all the time what had made the tracks and what had torn the throat out of the doe in the spring and killed the fawn. It had been foreknowledge in Sam’s face that morning. And he was glad, he told himself. He was old. He had no children, no people, none of his blood anywhere above earth that he would ever meet again. And even if he were to, he could not have touched it, spoken to it, because for seventy years now he had had to be a Negro. It was almost over now and he was glad.

They returned to camp and had breakfast and came back with guns and the hounds. Afterward the boy realised that they also should have known then what killed the colt as well as Sam Fathers did. But that was neither the first nor the last time he had seen men rationalise from and even act upon their misconceptions. After Boon, standing astride the colt, had whipped the dogs away from it with his belt, they snuffed at the tracks. One of them, a young dog hound without judgment yet, bayed once, and they ran for a few feet on what seemed to be a trail. Then they stopped, looking back at the men, eager enough, not baffled, merely questioning, as if they were asking “Now what?” Then they rushed back to the colt, where Boon, still astride it, slashed at them with the belt.

“I never knew a trail to get cold that quick,” General Compson said.

“Maybe a single wolf big enough to kill a colt with the dam right there beside it dont leave scent,” Major de Spain said.

“Maybe it was a hant,” Walter Ewell said. He looked at Tennie’s Jim. “Hah, Jim?”

Because the hounds would not run it, Major de Spain had Sam hunt out and find the tracks a hundred yards farther on and they put the dogs on it again and again the young one bayed and not one of them realised then that the hound was not baying like a dog striking game but was merely bellowing like a country dog whose yard has been invaded. General Compson spoke to the boy and Boon and Tennie’s Jim: to the squirrel hunters. “You boys keep the dogs with you this morning. He’s probably hanging around somewhere, waiting to get his breakfast off the colt. You might strike him.”

But they did not. The boy remembered how Sam stood watching them as they went into the woods with the leashed hounds—the Indian face in which he had never seen anything until it smiled, except that faint arching of the nostrils on that first morning when the hounds had found Old Ben. They took the hounds with them on the next day, though when they reached the place where they hoped to strike a fresh trail, the carcass of the colt was gone. Then on the third morning Sam was waiting again, this time until they had finished breakfast. He said, “Come.” He led them to his house, his little hut, to the corn-crib beyond it. He had removed the corn and had made a deadfall of the door, baiting it with the colt’s carcass; peering between the logs, they saw an animal almost the color of a gun or pistol barrel, what little time they had to examine its color or shape. It was not crouched nor even standing. It was in motion, in the air, coming toward them—a heavy body crashing with tremendous force against the door so that the thick door jumped and clattered in its frame, the animal, whatever it was, hurling itself against the door again seemingly before it could have touched the floor and got a new purchase to spring from. “Come away,” Sam said, “fore he break his neck.” Even when they retreated the heavy and measured crashes continued, the stout door jumping and clattering each time, and still no sound from the beast itself—no snarl, no cry.

“What in hell’s name is it?” Major de Spain said.

“It’s a dog,” Sam said, his nostrils arching and collapsing faintly and steadily and that faint, fierce milkiness in his eyes again as on that first morning when the hounds had struck the old bear. “It’s the dog.”

The dog?” Major de Spain said.

“That’s gonter hold Old Ben.”

“Dog the devil,” Major de Spain said. “I’d rather have Old Ben himself in my pack than that brute. Shoot him.”

“No,” Sam said.

“You’ll never tame him. How do you ever expect to make an animal like that afraid of you?”

“I dont want him tame,” Sam said; again the boy watched his nostrils and the fierce milky light in his eyes. “But I almost rather he be tame than scared, of me or any man or any thing. But he wont be neither, of nothing.”

“Then what are you going to do with it?”

“You can watch,” Sam said.

Each morning through the second week they would go to Sam’s crib. He had removed a few shingles from the roof and had put a rope on the colt’s carcass and had drawn it out when the trap fell. Each morning they would watch him lower a pail of water into the crib while the dog hurled itself tirelessly against the door and dropped back and leaped again. It never made any sound and there was nothing frenzied in the act but only a cold and grim indomitable determination. Toward the end of the week it stopped jumping at the door. Yet it had not weakened appreciably and it was not as if it had rationalised the fact that the door was not going to give. It was as if for that time it simply disdained to jump any longer. It was not down. None of them had ever seen it down. It stood, and they could see it now—part mastiff, something of Airedale and something of a dozen other strains probably, better than thirty inches at the shoulders and weighing as they guessed almost ninety pounds, with cold yellow eyes and a tremendous chest and over all that strange color like a blued gun-barrel.

Then the two weeks were up. They prepared to break camp. The boy begged to remain and his cousin let him. He moved into the little hut with Sam Fathers. Each morning he watched Sam lower the pail of water into the crib. By the end of that week the dog was down. It would rise and half stagger, half crawl to the water and drink and collapse again. One morning it could not even reach the water, could not raise its forequarters even from the floor. Sam took a short stick and prepared to enter the crib. “Wait,” the boy said. “Let me get the gun——”

“No,” Sam said. “He cant move now.” Nor could it. It lay on its side while Sam touched it, its head and the gaunted body, the dog lying motionless, the yellow eyes open. They were not fierce and there was nothing of petty malevolence in them, but a cold and almost impersonal malignance like some natural force. It was not even looking at Sam nor at the boy peering at it between the logs.

Sam began to feed it again. The first time he had to raise its head so it could lap the broth. That night he left a bowl of broth containing lumps of meat where the dog could reach it. The next morning the bowl was empty and the dog was lying on its belly, its head up, the cold yellow eyes watching the door as Sam entered, no change whatever in the cold yellow eyes and still no sound from it even when it sprang, its aim and co-ordination still bad from weakness so that Sam had time to strike it down with the stick and leap from the crib and slam the door as the dog, still without having had time to get its feet under it to jump again seemingly, hurled itself against the door as if the two weeks of starving had never been.

At noon that day someone came whooping through the woods from the direction of the camp. It was Boon. He came and looked for a while between the logs, at the tremendous dog lying again on its belly, its head up, the yellow eyes blinking sleepily at nothing: the indomitable and unbroken spirit. “What we better do,” Boon said, “is to let that son of a bitch go and catch Old Ben and run him on the dog.” He turned to the boy his weather-reddened and beetling face. “Get your traps together. Cass says for you to come on home. You been in here fooling with that horse-eating varmint long enough.”

Boon had a borrowed mule at the camp; the buggy was waiting at the edge of the bottom. He was at home that night. He told McCaslin about it. “Sam’s going to starve him again until he can go in and touch him. Then he will feed him again. Then he will starve him again, if he has to.”

“But why?” McCaslin said. “What for? Even Sam will never tame that brute.”

“We dont want him tame. We want him like he is. We just want him to find out at last that the only way he can get out of that crib and stay out of it is to do what Sam or somebody tells him to do. He’s the dog that’s going to stop Old Ben and hold him. We’ve already named him. His name is Lion.”

Then November came at last. They returned to the camp. With General Compson and Major de Spain and his cousin and Walter and Boon he stood in the yard among the guns and bedding and boxes of food and watched Sam Fathers and Lion come up the lane from the lot—the Indian, the old man in battered overalls and rubber boots and a worn sheepskin coat and a hat which had belonged to the boy’s father; the tremendous dog pacing gravely beside him. The hounds rushed out to meet them and stopped, except the young one which still had but little of judgment. It ran up to Lion, fawning. Lion didn’t snap at it. He didn’t even pause. He struck it rolling and yelping for five or six feet with a blow of one paw as a bear would have done and came on into the yard and stood, blinking sleepily at nothing, looking at no one, while Boon said, “Jesus. Jesus.—Will he let me touch him?”

“You can touch him,” Sam said. “He dont care. He dont care about nothing or nobody.”

The boy watched that too. He watched it for the next two years from that moment when Boon touched Lion’s head and then knelt beside him, feeling the bones and muscles, the power. It was as if Lion were a woman—or perhaps Boon was the woman. That was more like it—the big, grave, sleepy-seeming dog which, as Sam Fathers said, cared about no man and no thing; and the violent, insensitive, hard-faced man with his touch of remote Indian blood and the mind almost of a child. He watched Boon take over Lion’s feeding from Sam and Uncle Ash both. He would see Boon squatting in the cold rain beside the kitchen while Lion ate. Because Lion neither slept nor ate with the other dogs though none of them knew where he did sleep until in the second November, thinking until then that Lion slept in his kennel beside Sam Fathers’ hut, when the boy’s cousin McCaslin said something about it to Sam by sheer chance and Sam told him. And that night the boy and Major de Spain and McCaslin with a lamp entered the back room where Boon slept—the little, tight, airless room rank with the smell of Boon’s unwashed body and his wet hunting-clothes—where Boon, snoring on his back, choked and waked and Lion raised his head beside him and looked back at them from his cold, slumbrous yellow eyes.

“Damn it, Boon,” McCaslin said. “Get that dog out of here. He’s got to run Old Ben tomorrow morning. How in hell do you expect him to smell anything fainter than a skunk after breathing you all night?”

“The way I smell aint hurt my nose none that I ever noticed,” Boon said.

“It wouldn’t matter if it had,” Major de Spain said. “We’re not depending on you to trail a bear. Put him outside. Put him under the house with the other dogs.”

Boon began to get up. “He’ll kill the first one that happens to yawn or sneeze in his face or touches him.”

“I reckon not,” Major de Spain said. “None of them are going to risk yawning in his face or touching him either, even asleep. Put him outside. I want his nose right tomorrow. Old Ben fooled him last year. I dont think he will do it again.”

Boon put on his shoes without lacing them; in his long soiled underwear, his hair still tousled from sleep, he and Lion went out. The others returned to the front room and the poker game where McCaslin’s and Major de Spain’s hands waited for them on the table. After a while McCaslin said, “Do you want me to go back and look again?”

“No,” Major de Spain said. “I call,” he said to Walter Ewell. He spoke to McCaslin again. “If you do, dont tell me. I am beginning to see the first sign of my increasing age: I dont like to know that my orders have been disobeyed, even when I knew when I gave them that they would be.—A small pair,” he said to Walter Ewell.

“How small?” Walter said.

“Very small,” Major de Spain said.

And the boy, lying beneath his piled quilts and blankets waiting for sleep, knew likewise that Lion was already back in Boon’s bed, for the rest of that night and the next one and during all the nights of the next November and the next one. He thought then: I wonder what Sam thinks. He could have Lion with him, even if Boon is a white man. He could ask Major or McCaslin either. And more than that. It was Sam’s hand that touched Lion first and Lion knows it. Then he became a man and he knew that too. It had been all right. That was the way it should have been. Sam was the chief, the prince; Boon, the plebeian, was his huntsman. Boon should have nursed the dogs.

On the first morning that Lion led the pack after Old Ben, seven strangers appeared in the camp. They were swampers: gaunt, malaria-ridden men appearing from nowhere, who ran trap-lines for coons or perhaps farmed little patches of cotton and corn along the edge of the bottom, in clothes but little better than Sam Fathers’ and nowhere near as good as Tennie’s Jim’s, with worn shotguns and rifles, already squatting patiently in the cold drizzle in the side yard when day broke. They had a spokesman; afterward Sam Fathers told Major de Spain how all during the past summer and fall they had drifted into the camp singly or in pairs and threes, to look quietly at Lion for a while and then go away: “Mawnin, Major. We heerd you was aimin to put that ere blue dawg on that old two-toed bear this mawnin. We figgered we’d come up and watch, if you dont mind. We wont do no shooting, lessen he runs over us.”

“You are welcome,” Major de Spain said. “You are welcome to shoot. He’s more your bear than ours.”

“I reckon that aint no lie. I done fed him enough cawn to have a sheer in him. Not to mention a shoat three years ago.”

“I reckon I got a sheer too,” another said. “Only it aint in the bear.” Major de Spain looked at him. He was chewing tobacco. He spat. “Hit was a heifer calf. Nice un too. Last year. When I finally found her, I reckon she looked about like that colt of yourn looked last June.”

“Oh,” Major de Spain said. “Be welcome. If you see game in front of my dogs, shoot it.”

Nobody shot Old Ben that day. No man saw him. The dogs jumped him within a hundred yards of the glade where the boy had seen him that day in the summer of his eleventh year. The boy was less than a quarter-mile away. He heard the jump but he could distinguish no voice among the dogs that he did not know and therefore would be Lion’s, and he thought, believed, that Lion was not among them. Even the fact that they were going much faster than he had ever heard them run behind Old Ben before and that the high thin note of hysteria was missing now from their voices was not enough to disabuse him. He didn’t comprehend until that night, when Sam told him that Lion would never cry on a trail. “He gonter growl when he catches Old Ben’s throat,” Sam said. “But he aint gonter never holler, no more than he ever done when he was jumping at that two-inch door. It’s that blue dog in him. What you call it?”

“Airedale,” the boy said.

Lion was there; the jump was just too close to the river. When Boon returned with Lion about eleven that night, he swore that Lion had stopped Old Ben once but that the hounds would not go in and Old Ben broke away and took to the river and swam for miles down it and he and Lion went down one bank for about ten miles and crossed and came up the other but it had begun to get dark before they struck any trail where Old Ben had come up out of the water, unless he was still in the water when he passed the ford where they crossed. Then he fell to cursing the hounds and ate the supper Uncle Ash had saved for him and went off to bed and after a while the boy opened the door of the little stale room thunderous with snoring and the great grave dog raised its head from Boon’s pillow and blinked at him for a moment and lowered its head again.

When the next November came and the last day, the day on which it was now becoming traditional to save for Old Ben, there were more than a dozen strangers waiting. They were not all swampers this time. Some of them were townsmen, from other county seats like Jefferson, who had heard about Lion and Old Ben and had come to watch the great blue dog keep his yearly rendezvous with the old two-toed bear. Some of them didn’t even have guns and the hunting-clothes and boots they wore had been on a store shelf yesterday.

This time Lion jumped Old Ben more than five miles from the river and bayed and held him and this time the hounds went in, in a sort of desperate emulation. The boy heard them; he was that near. He heard Boon whooping; he heard the two shots when General Compson delivered both barrels, one containing five buckshot, the other a single ball, into the bear from as close as he could force his almost unmanageable horse. He heard the dogs when the bear broke free again. He was running now; panting, stumbling, his lungs bursting, he reached the place where General Compson had fired and where Old Ben had killed two of the hounds. He saw the blood from General Compson’s shots, but he could go no further. He stopped, leaning against a tree for his breathing to ease and his heart to slow, hearing the sound of the dogs as it faded on and died away.

In camp that night—they had as guests five of the still terrified strangers in new hunting coats and boots who had been lost all day until Sam Fathers went out and got them—he heard the rest of it: how Lion had stopped and held the bear again but only the one-eyed mule which did not mind the smell of wild blood would approach and Boon was riding the mule and Boon had never been known to hit anything. He shot at the bear five times with his pump gun, touching nothing, and Old Ben killed another hound and broke free once more and reached the river and was gone. Again Boon and Lion hunted as far down one bank as they dared. Too far; they crossed in the first of dusk and dark overtook them within a mile. And this time Lion found the broken trail, the blood perhaps, in the darkness where Old Ben had come up out of the water, but Boon had him on a rope, luckily, and he got down from the mule and fought Lion hand-to-hand until he got him back to camp. This time Boon didn’t even curse. He stood in the door, muddy, spent, his huge gargoyle’s face tragic and still amazed. “I missed him,” he said. “I was in twenty-five feet of him and I missed him five times.”

“But we have drawn blood,” Major de Spain said. “General Compson drew blood. We have never done that before.”

“But I missed him,” Boon said. “I missed him five times. With Lion looking right at me.”

“Never mind,” Major de Spain said. “It was a damned fine race. And we drew blood. Next year we’ll let General Compson or Walter ride Katie, and we’ll get him.”

Then McCaslin said, “Where is Lion, Boon?”

“I left him at Sam’s,” Boon said. He was already turning away. “I aint fit to sleep with him.”

So he should have hated and feared Lion. Yet he did not. It seemed to him that there was a fatality in it. It seemed to him that something, he didn’t know what, was beginning; had already begun. It was like the last act on a set stage. It was the beginning of the end of something, he didn’t know what except that he would not grieve. He would be humble and proud that he had been found worthy to be a part of it too or even just to see it too.


It was December. It was the coldest December he had ever remembered. They had been in camp four days over two weeks, waiting for the weather to soften so that Lion and Old Ben could run their yearly race. Then they would break camp and go home. Because of these unforeseen additional days which they had had to pass waiting on the weather, with nothing to do but play poker, the whisky had given out and he and Boon were being sent to Memphis with a suitcase and a note from Major de Spain to Mr Semmes, the distiller, to get more. That is, Major de Spain and McCaslin were sending Boon to get the whisky and sending him to see that Boon got back with it or most of it or at least some of it.

Tennie’s Jim waked him at three. He dressed rapidly, shivering, not so much from the cold because a fresh fire already boomed and roared on the hearth, but in that dead winter hour when the blood and the heart are slow and sleep is incomplete. He crossed the gap between house and kitchen, the gap of iron earth beneath the brilliant and rigid night where dawn would not begin for three hours yet, tasting, tongue palate and to the very bottom of his lungs the searing dark, and entered the kitchen, the lamplit warmth where the stove glowed, fogging the windows, and where Boon already sat at the table at breakfast, hunched over his plate, almost in his plate, his working jaws blue with stubble and his face innocent of water and his coarse, horse-mane hair innocent of comb—the quarter Indian, grandson of a Chickasaw squaw, who on occasion resented with his hard and furious fists the intimation of one single drop of alien blood and on others, usually after whisky, affirmed with the same fists and the same fury that his father had been the full-blood Chickasaw and even a chief and that even his mother had been only half white. He was four inches over six feet; he had the mind of a child, the heart of a horse, and little hard shoe-button eyes without depth or meanness or generosity or viciousness or gentleness or anything else, in the ugliest face the boy had ever seen. It looked like somebody had found a walnut a little larger than a football and with a machinist’s hammer had shaped features into it and then painted it, mostly red; not Indian red but a fine bright ruddy color which whisky might have had something to do with but which was mostly just happy and violent out-of-doors, the wrinkles in it not the residue of the forty years it had survived but from squinting into the sun or into the gloom of cane-brakes where game had run, baked into it by the camp fires before which he had lain trying to sleep on the cold November or December ground while waiting for daylight so he could rise and hunt again, as though time were merely something he walked through as he did through air, aging him no more than air did. He was brave, faithful, improvident and unreliable; he had neither profession job nor trade and owned one vice and one virtue: whisky, and that absolute and unquestioning fidelity to Major de Spain and the boy’s cousin McCaslin. “Sometimes I’d call them both virtues,” Major de Spain said once. “Or both vices,” McCaslin said.

He ate his breakfast, hearing the dogs under the kitchen, wakened by the smell of frying meat or perhaps by the feet overhead. He heard Lion once, short and peremptory, as the best hunter in any camp has only to speak once to all save the fools, and none other of Major de Spain’s and McCaslin’s dogs were Lion’s equal in size and strength and perhaps even in courage, but they were not fools; Old Ben had killed the last fool among them last year.

Tennie’s Jim came in as they finished. The wagon was outside. Ash decided he would drive them over to the log-line where they would flag the outbound log-train and let Tennie’s Jim wash the dishes. The boy knew why. It would not be the first time he had listened to old Ash badgering Boon.

It was cold. The wagon wheels banged and clattered on the frozen ground; the sky was fixed and brilliant. He was not shivering, he was shaking, slow and steady and hard, the food he had just eaten still warm and solid inside him while his outside shook slow and steady around it as though his stomach floated loose. “They wont run this morning,” he said. “No dog will have any nose today.”

“Cep Lion,” Ash said. “Lion dont need no nose. All he need is a bear.” He had wrapped his feet in towsacks and he had a quilt from his pallet bed on the kitchen floor drawn over his head and wrapped around him until in the thin brilliant starlight he looked like nothing at all that the boy had ever seen before. “He run a bear through a thousand-acre ice-house. Catch him too. Them other dogs dont matter because they aint going to keep up with Lion nohow, long as he got a bear in front of him.”

“What’s wrong with the other dogs?” Boon said. “What the hell do you know about it anyway? This is the first time you’ve had your tail out of that kitchen since we got here except to chop a little wood.”

“Aint nothing wrong with them,” Ash said. “And long as it’s left up to them, aint nothing going to be. I just wish I had knowed all my life how to take care of my health good as them hounds knows.”

“Well, they aint going to run this morning,” Boon said. His voice was harsh and positive. “Major promised they wouldn’t until me and Ike get back.”

“Weather gonter break today. Gonter soft up. Rain by night.” Then Ash laughed, chuckled, somewhere inside the quilt which concealed even his face. “Hum up here, mules!” he said, jerking the reins so that the mules leaped forward and snatched the lurching and banging wagon for several feet before they slowed again into their quick, short-paced, rapid plodding. “Sides, I like to know why Major need to wait on you. It’s Lion he aiming to use. I aint never heard tell of you bringing no bear nor no other kind of meat into this camp.”

Now Boon’s going to curse Ash or maybe even hit him, the boy thought. But Boon never did, never had; the boy knew he never would even though four years ago Boon had shot five times with a borrowed pistol at a Negro on the street in Jefferson, with the same result as when he had shot five times at Old Ben last fall. “By God,” Boon said, “he aint going to put Lion or no other dog on nothing until I get back tonight. Because he promised me. Whip up them mules and keep them whipped up. Do you want me to freeze to death?”

They reached the log-line and built a fire. After a while the log-train came up out of the woods under the paling east and Boon flagged it. Then in the warm caboose the boy slept again while Boon and the conductor and brakeman talked about Lion and Old Ben as people later would talk about Sullivan and Kilrain and, later still, about Dempsey and Tunney. Dozing, swaying as the springless caboose lurched and clattered, he would hear them still talking, about the shoats and calves Old Ben had killed and the cribs he had rifled and the traps and deadfalls he had wrecked and the lead he probably carried under his hide—Old Ben, the two-toed bear in a land where bears with trap-ruined feet had been called Two-Toe or Three-Toe or Cripple-Foot for fifty years, only Old Ben was an extra bear (the head bear, General Compson called him) and so had earned a name such as a human man could have worn and not been sorry.

They reached Hoke’s at sunup. They emerged from the warm caboose in their hunting-clothes, the muddy boots and stained khaki and Boon’s blue unshaven jowls. But that was all right. Hoke’s was a sawmill and commissary and two stores and a loading-chute on a sidetrack from the main line, and all the men in it wore boots and khaki too. Presently the Memphis train came. Boon bought three packages of popcorn-and-molasses and a bottle of beer from the news butch and the boy went to sleep again to the sound of his chewing.

But in Memphis it was not all right. It was as if the high buildings and the hard pavements, the fine carriages and the horse cars and the men in starched collars and neckties made their boots and khaki look a little rougher and a little muddier and made Boon’s beard look worse and more unshaven and his face look more and more like he should never have brought it out of the woods at all or at least out of reach of Major de Spain or McCaslin or someone who knew it and could have said, “Dont be afraid. He wont hurt you.” He walked through the station, on the slick floor, his face moving as he worked the popcorn out of his teeth with his tongue, his legs spraddled and stiff in the hips as if he were walking on buttered glass, and that blue stubble on his face like the filings from a new gun-barrel. They passed the first saloon. Even through the closed doors the boy could seem to smell the sawdust and the reek of old drink. Boon began to cough. He coughed for something less than a minute. “Damn this cold,” he said. “I’d sure like to know where I got it.”

“Back there in the station,” the boy said.

Boon had started to cough again. He stopped. He looked at the boy. “What?” he said.

“You never had it when we left camp nor on the train either.” Boon looked at him, blinking. Then he stopped blinking. He didn’t cough again. He said quietly:

“Lend me a dollar. Come on. You’ve got it. If you ever had one, you’ve still got it. I dont mean you are tight with your money because you aint. You just dont never seem to ever think of nothing you want. When I was sixteen a dollar bill melted off of me before I even had time to read the name of the bank that issued it.” He said quietly: “Let me have a dollar, Ike.”

“You promised Major. You promised McCaslin. Not till we get back to camp.”

“All right,” Boon said in that quiet and patient voice. “What can I do on just one dollar? You aint going to lend me another.”

“You’re damn right I aint,” the boy said, his voice quiet too, cold with rage which was not at Boon, remembering: Boon snoring in a hard chair in the kitchen so he could watch the clock and wake him and McCaslin and drive them the seventeen miles in to Jefferson to catch the train to Memphis; the wild, never-bridled Texas paint pony which he had persuaded McCaslin to let him buy and which he and Boon had bought at auction for four dollars and seventy-five cents and fetched home wired between two gentle old mares with pieces of barbed wire and which had never even seen shelled corn before and didn’t even know what it was unless the grains were bugs maybe and at last (he was ten and Boon had been ten all his life) Boon said the pony was gentled and with a towsack over its head and four Negroes to hold it they backed it into an old two-wheeled cart and hooked up the gear and he and Boon got up and Boon said, “All right, boys. Let him go” and one of the Negroes—it was Tennie’s Jim—snatched the towsack off and leaped for his life and they lost the first wheel against a post of the open gate only at that moment Boon caught him by the scruff of the neck and flung him into the roadside ditch so he only saw the rest of it in fragments: the other wheel as it slammed through the side gate and crossed the back yard and leaped up onto the gallery and scraps of the cart here and there along the road and Boon vanishing rapidly on his stomach in the leaping and spurting dust and still holding the reins until they broke too and two days later they finally caught the pony seven miles away still wearing the hames and the headstall of the bridle around its neck like a duchess with two necklaces at one time. He gave Boon the dollar.

“All right,” Boon said. “Come on in out of the cold.”

“I aint cold,” he said.

“You can have some lemonade.”

“I dont want any lemonade.”

The door closed behind him. The sun was well up now. It was a brilliant day, though Ash had said it would rain before night. Already it was warmer; they could run tomorrow. He felt the old lift of the heart, as pristine as ever, as on the first day; he would never lose it, no matter how old in hunting and pursuit: the best, the best of all breathing, the humility and the pride. He must stop thinking about it. Already it seemed to him that he was running, back to the station, to the tracks themselves: the first train going south; he must stop thinking about it. The street was busy. He watched the big Norman draft horses, the Percherons; the trim carriages from which the men in the fine overcoats and the ladies rosy in furs descended and entered the station. (They were still next door to it but one.) Twenty years ago his father had ridden into Memphis as a member of Colonel Sartoris’ horse in Forrest’s command, up Main street and (the tale told) into the lobby of the Gayoso Hotel where the Yankee officers sat in the leather chairs spitting into the tall bright cuspidors and then out again, scot-free——

The door opened behind him. Boon was wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “All right,” he said. “Let’s go tend to it and get the hell out of here.”

They went and had the suitcase packed. He never knew where or when Boon got the other bottle. Doubtless Mr Semmes gave it to him. When they reached Hoke’s again at sundown, it was empty. They could get a return train to Hoke’s in two hours; they went straight back to the station as Major de Spain and then McCaslin had told Boon to do and then ordered him to do and had sent the boy along to see that he did. Boon took the first drink from his bottle in the washroom. A man in a uniform cap came to tell him he couldn’t drink there and looked at Boon’s face once and said nothing. The next time he was pouring into his water glass beneath the edge of a table in the restaurant when the manager (she was a woman) did tell him he couldn’t drink there and he went back to the washroom. He had been telling the Negro waiter and all the other people in the restaurant who couldn’t help but hear him and who had never heard of Lion and didn’t want to, about Lion and Old Ben. Then he happened to think of the zoo. He had found out that there was another train to Hoke’s at three oclock and so they would spend the time at the zoo and take the three oclock train until he came back from the washroom for the third time. Then they would take the first train back to camp, get Lion and come back to the zoo where, he said, the bears were fed on ice cream and lady fingers and he would match Lion against them all.

So they missed the first train, the one they were supposed to take, but he got Boon onto the three oclock train and they were all right again, with Boon not even going to the washroom now but drinking in the aisle and talking about Lion and the men he buttonholed no more daring to tell Boon he couldn’t drink there than the man in the station had dared.

When they reached Hoke’s at sundown, Boon was asleep. The boy waked him at last and got him and the suitcase off the train and he even persuaded him to eat some supper at the sawmill commissary. So he was all right when they got in the caboose of the log-train to go back into the woods, with the sun going down red and the sky already overcast and the ground would not freeze tonight. It was the boy who slept now, sitting behind the ruby stove while the springless caboose jumped and clattered and Boon and the brakeman and the conductor talked about Lion and Old Ben because they knew what Boon was talking about because this was home. “Overcast and already thawing,” Boon said. “Lion will get him tomorrow.”

It would have to be Lion, or somebody. It would not be Boon. He had never hit anything bigger than a squirrel that anybody ever knew, except the Negro woman that day when he was shooting at the Negro man. He was a big Negro and not ten feet away but Boon shot five times with the pistol he had borrowed from Major de Spain’s Negro coachman and the Negro he was shooting at outed with a dollar-and-a-half mail-order pistol and would have burned Boon down with it only it never went off, it just went snicksnicksnicksnicksnick five times and Boon still blasting away and he broke a plate-glass window that cost McCaslin forty-five dollars and hit a Negro woman who happened to be passing in the leg only Major de Spain paid for that; he and McCaslin cut cards, the plate-glass window against the Negro woman’s leg. And the first day on stand this year, the first morning in camp, the buck ran right over Boon; he heard Boon’s old pump gun go whow. whow. whow. whow. whow. and then his voice: “God damn, here he comes! Head him! Head him!” and when he got there the buck’s tracks and the five exploded shells were not twenty paces apart.

There were five guests in camp that night, from Jefferson: Mr Bayard Sartoris and his son and General Compson’s son and two others. And the next morning he looked out the window, into the gray thin drizzle of daybreak which Ash had predicted, and there they were, standing and squatting beneath the thin rain, almost two dozen of them who had fed Old Ben corn and shoats and even calves for ten years, in their worn hats and hunting coats and overalls which any town Negro would have thrown away or burned and only the rubber boots strong and sound, and the worn and blueless guns and some even without guns. While they ate breakfast a dozen more arrived, mounted and on foot: loggers from the camp thirteen miles below and sawmill men from Hoke’s and the only gun among them that one which the log-train conductor carried: so that when they went into the woods this morning Major de Spain led a party almost as strong, excepting that some of them were not armed, as some he had led in the last darkening days of ’64 and ’65. The little yard would not hold them. They overflowed it, into the lane where Major de Spain sat his mare while Ash in his dirty apron thrust the greasy cartridges into his carbine and passed it up to him and the great grave blue dog stood at his stirrup not as a dog stands but as a horse stands, blinking his sleepy topaz eyes at nothing, deaf even to the yelling of the hounds which Boon and Tennie’s Jim held on leash.

“We’ll put General Compson on Katie this morning,” Major de Spain said. “He drew blood last year; if he’d had a mule then that would have stood, he would have——”

“No,” General Compson said. “I’m too old to go helling through the woods on a mule or a horse or anything else any more. Besides, I had my chance last year and missed it. I’m going on a stand this morning. I’m going to let that boy ride Katie.”

“No, wait,” McCaslin said. “Ike’s got the rest of his life to hunt bears in. Let somebody else——”

“No,” General Compson said. “I want Ike to ride Katie. He’s already a better woodsman than you or me either and in another ten years he’ll be as good as Walter.”

At first he couldn’t believe it, not until Major de Spain spoke to him. Then he was up, on the one-eyed mule which would not spook at wild blood, looking down at the dog motionless at Major de Spain’s stirrup, looking in the gray streaming light bigger than a calf, bigger than he knew it actually was—the big head, the chest almost as big as his own, the blue hide beneath which the muscles flinched or quivered to no touch since the heart which drove blood to them loved no man and no thing, standing as a horse stands yet different from a horse which infers only weight and speed while Lion inferred not only courage and all else that went to make up the will and desire to pursue and kill, but endurance, the will and desire to endure beyond all imaginable limits of flesh in order to overtake and slay. Then the dog looked at him. It moved its head and looked at him across the trivial uproar of the hounds, out of the yellow eyes as depthless as Boon’s, as free as Boon’s of meanness or generosity or gentleness or viciousness. They were just cold and sleepy. Then it blinked, and he knew it was not looking at him and never had been, without even bothering to turn its head away.

That morning he heard the first cry. Lion had already vanished while Sam and Tennie’s Jim were putting saddles on the mule and horse which had drawn the wagon and he watched the hounds as they crossed and cast, snuffing and whimpering, until they too disappeared. Then he and Major de Spain and Sam and Tennie’s Jim rode after them and heard the first cry out of the wet and thawing woods not two hundred yards ahead, high, with that abject, almost human quality he had come to know, and the other hounds joining in until the gloomed woods rang and clamored. They rode then. It seemed to him that he could actually see the big blue dog boring on, silent, and the bear too: the thick, locomotive-like shape which he had seen that day four years ago crossing the blow-down, crashing on ahead of the dogs faster than he had believed it could have moved, drawing away even from the running mules. He heard a shotgun, once. The woods had opened, they were going fast, the clamor faint and fading on ahead; they passed the man who had fired—a swamper, a pointing arm, a gaunt face, the small black orifice of his yelling studded with rotten teeth.

He heard the changed note in the hounds’ uproar and two hundred yards ahead he saw them. The bear had turned. He saw Lion drive in without pausing and saw the bear strike him aside and lunge into the yelling hounds and kill one of them almost in its tracks and whirl and run again. Then they were in a streaming tide of dogs. He heard Major de Spain and Tennie’s Jim shouting and the pistol sound of Tennie’s Jim’s leather thong as he tried to turn them. Then he and Sam Fathers were riding alone. One of the hounds had kept on with Lion though. He recognised its voice. It was the young hound which even a year ago had had no judgment and which, by the lights of the other hounds anyway, still had none. Maybe that’s what courage is, he thought. “Right,” Sam said behind him. “Right. We got to turn him from the river if we can.”

Now they were in cane: a brake. He knew the path through it as well as Sam did. They came out of the undergrowth and struck the entrance almost exactly. It would traverse the brake and come out onto a high open ridge above the river. He heard the flat clap of Walter Ewell’s rifle, then two more. “No,” Sam said. “I can hear the hound. Go on.”

They emerged from the narrow roofless tunnel of snapping and hissing cane, still galloping, onto the open ridge below which the thick yellow river, reflectionless in the gray and streaming light, seemed not to move. Now he could hear the hound too. It was not running. The cry was a high frantic yapping and Boon was running along the edge of the bluff, his old gun leaping and jouncing against his back on its sling made of a piece of cotton plowline. He whirled and ran up to them, wild-faced, and flung himself onto the mule behind the boy. “That damn boat!” he cried. “It’s on the other side! He went straight across! Lion was too close to him! That little hound too! Lion was so close I couldn’t shoot! Go on!” he cried, beating his heels into the mule’s flanks. “Go on!”

They plunged down the bank, slipping and sliding in the thawed earth, crashing through the willows and into the water. He felt no shock, no cold, he on one side of the swimming mule, grasping the pommel with one hand and holding his gun above the water with the other, Boon opposite him. Sam was behind them somewhere, and then the river, the water about them, was full of dogs. They swam faster than the mules; they were scrabbling up the bank before the mules touched bottom. Major de Spain was whooping from the bank they had just left and, looking back, he saw Tennie’s Jim and the horse as they went into the water.

Now the woods ahead of them and the rain-heavy air were one uproar. It rang and clamored; it echoed and broke against the bank behind them and reformed and clamored and rang until it seemed to the boy that all the hounds which had ever bayed game in this land were yelling down at him. He got his leg over the mule as it came up out of the water. Boon didn’t try to mount again. He grasped one stirrup as they went up the bank and crashed through the undergrowth which fringed the bluff and saw the bear, on its hind feet, its back against a tree while the bellowing hounds swirled around it and once more Lion drove in, leaping clear of the ground.

This time the bear didn’t strike him down. It caught the dog in both arms, almost loverlike, and they both went down. He was off the mule now. He drew back both hammers of the gun but he could see nothing but moiling spotted houndbodies until the bear surged up again. Boon was yelling something, he could not tell what; he could see Lion still clinging to the bear’s throat and he saw the bear, half erect, strike one of the hounds with one paw and hurl it five or six feet and then, rising and rising as though it would never stop, stand erect again and begin to rake at Lion’s belly with its forepaws. Then Boon was running. The boy saw the gleam of the blade in his hand and watched him leap among the hounds, hurdling them, kicking them aside as he ran, and fling himself astride the bear as he had hurled himself onto the mule, his legs locked around the bear’s belly, his left arm under the bear’s throat where Lion clung, and the glint of the knife as it rose and fell.

It fell just once. For an instant they almost resembled a piece of statuary: the clinging dog, the bear, the man astride its back, working and probing the buried blade. Then they went down, pulled over backward by Boon’s weight, Boon underneath. It was the bear’s back which reappeared first but at once Boon was astride it again. He had never released the knife and again the boy saw the almost infinitesimal movement of his arm and shoulder as he probed and sought; then the bear surged erect, raising with it the man and the dog too, and turned and still carrying the man and the dog it took two or three steps toward the woods on its hind feet as a man would have walked and crashed down. It didn’t collapse, crumple. It fell all of a piece, as a tree falls, so that all three of them, man dog and bear, seemed to bounce once.

He and Tennie’s Jim ran forward. Boon was kneeling at the bear’s head. His left ear was shredded, his left coat sleeve was completely gone, his right boot had been ripped from knee to instep; the bright blood thinned in the thin rain down his leg and hand and arm and down the side of his face which was no longer wild but was quite calm. Together they prized Lion’s jaws from the bear’s throat. “Easy, goddamn it,” Boon said. “Cant you see his guts are all out of him?” He began to remove his coat. He spoke to Tennie’s Jim in that calm voice: “Bring the boat up. It’s about a hundred yards down the bank there. I saw it.” Tennie’s Jim rose and went away. Then, and he could not remember if it had been a call or an exclamation from Tennie’s Jim or if he had glanced up by chance, he saw Tennie’s Jim stooping and saw Sam Fathers lying motionless on his face in the trampled mud.

The mule had not thrown him. He remembered that Sam was down too even before Boon began to run. There was no mark on him whatever and when he and Boon turned him over, his eyes were open and he said something in that tongue which he and Joe Baker had used to speak together. But he couldn’t move. Tennie’s Jim brought the skiff up; they could hear him shouting to Major de Spain across the river. Boon wrapped Lion in his hunting coat and carried him down to the skiff and they carried Sam down and returned and hitched the bear to the one-eyed mule’s saddle-bow with Tennie’s Jim’s leash-thong and dragged him down to the skiff and got him into it and left Tennie’s Jim to swim the horse and the two mules back across. Major de Spain caught the bow of the skiff as Boon jumped out and past him before it touched the bank. He looked at Old Ben and said quietly: “Well.” Then he walked into the water and leaned down and touched Sam and Sam looked up at him and said something in that old tongue he and Joe Baker spoke. “You dont know what happened?” Major de Spain said.

“No, sir,” the boy said. “It wasn’t the mule. It wasn’t anything. He was off the mule when Boon ran in on the bear. Then we looked up and he was lying on the ground.” Boon was shouting at Tennie’s Jim, still in the middle of the river.

“Come on, goddamn it!” he said. “Bring me that mule!”

“What do you want with a mule?” Major de Spain said.

Boon didn’t even look at him. “I’m going to Hoke’s to get the doctor,” he said in that calm voice, his face quite calm beneath the steady thinning of the bright blood.

“You need a doctor yourself,” Major de Spain said. “Tennie’s Jim——”

“Damn that,” Boon said. He turned on Major de Spain. His face was still calm, only his voice was a pitch higher. “Cant you see his goddamn guts are all out of him?”

“Boon!” Major de Spain said. They looked at one another. Boon was a good head taller than Major de Spain; even the boy was taller now than Major de Spain.

“I’ve got to get the doctor,” Boon said. “His goddamn guts——”

“All right,” Major de Spain said. Tennie’s Jim came up out of the water. The horse and the sound mule had already scented Old Ben; they surged and plunged all the way up to the top of the bluff, dragging Tennie’s Jim with them, before he could stop them and tie them and come back. Major de Spain unlooped the leather thong of his compass from his buttonhole and gave it to Tennie’s Jim. “Go straight to Hoke’s,” he said. “Bring Doctor Crawford back with you. Tell him there are two men to be looked at. Take my mare. Can you find the road from here?”

“Yes, sir,” Tennie’s Jim said.

“All right,” Major de Spain said. “Go on.” He turned to the boy. “Take the mules and the horse and go back and get the wagon. We’ll go on down the river in the boat to Coon bridge. Meet us there. Can you find it again?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy said.

“All right. Get started.”

He went back to the wagon. He realised then how far they had run. It was already afternoon when he put the mules into the traces and tied the horse’s lead-rope to the tail-gate. He reached Coon bridge at dusk. The skiff was already there. Before he could see it and almost before he could see the water he had to leap from the tilting wagon, still holding the reins, and work around to where he could grasp the bit and then the ear of the plunging sound mule and dig his heels and hold it until Boon came up the bank. The rope of the led horse had already snapped and it had already disappeared up the road toward camp. They turned the wagon around and took the mules out and he led the sound mule a hundred yards up the road and tied it. Boon had already brought Lion up to the wagon and Sam was sitting up in the skiff now and when they raised him he tried to walk, up the bank and to the wagon and he tried to climb into the wagon but Boon did not wait; he picked Sam up bodily and set him on the seat. Then they hitched Old Ben to the one-eyed mule’s saddle again and dragged him up the bank and set two skid-poles into the open tail-gate and got him into the wagon and he went and got the sound mule and Boon fought it into the traces, striking it across its hard hollow-sounding face until it came into position and stood trembling. Then the rain came down, as though it had held off all day waiting on them.

They returned to camp through it, through the streaming and sightless dark, hearing long before they saw any light the horn and the spaced shots to guide them. When they came to Sam’s dark little hut he tried to stand up. He spoke again in the tongue of the old fathers; then he said clearly: “Let me out. Let me out.”

“He hasn’t got any fire,” Major said. “Go on!” he said sharply.

But Sam was struggling now, trying to stand up. “Let me out, master,” he said. “Let me go home.”

So he stopped the wagon and Boon got down and lifted Sam out. He did not wait to let Sam try to walk this time. He carried him into the hut and Major de Spain got light on a paper spill from the buried embers on the hearth and lit the lamp and Boon put Sam on his bunk and drew off his boots and Major de Spain covered him and the boy was not there, he was holding the mules, the sound one which was trying again to bolt since when the wagon stopped Old Ben’s scent drifted forward again along the streaming blackness of air, but Sam’s eyes were probably open again on that profound look which saw further than them or the hut, further than the death of a bear and the dying of a dog. Then they went on, toward the long wailing of the horn and the shots which seemed each to linger intact somewhere in the thick streaming air until the next spaced report joined and blended with it, to the lighted house, the bright streaming windows, the quiet faces as Boon entered, bloody and quite calm, carrying the bundled coat. He laid Lion, blood coat and all, on his stale sheetless pallet bed which not even Ash, as deft in the house as a woman, could ever make smooth.

The sawmill doctor from Hoke’s was already there. Boon would not let the doctor touch him until he had seen to Lion. He wouldn’t risk giving Lion chloroform. He put the entrails back and sewed him up without it while Major de Spain held his head and Boon his feet. But he never tried to move. He lay there, the yellow eyes open upon nothing while the quiet men in the new hunting-clothes and in the old ones crowded into the little airless room rank with the smell of Boon’s body and garments, and watched. Then the doctor cleaned and disinfected Boon’s face and arm and leg and bandaged them and, the boy in front with a lantern and the doctor and McCaslin and Major de Spain and General Compson following, they went to Sam Fathers’ hut. Tennie’s Jim had built up the fire; he squatted before it, dozing. Sam had not moved since Boon had put him in the bunk and Major de Spain had covered him with the blankets, yet he opened his eyes and looked from one to another of the faces and when McCaslin touched his shoulder and said, “Sam. The doctor wants to look at you,” he even drew his hands out of the blanket and began to fumble at his shirt buttons until McCaslin said, “Wait. We’ll do it.” They undressed him. He lay there—the copper-brown, almost hairless body, the old man’s body, the old man, the wild man not even one generation from the woods, childless, kinless, peopleless—motionless, his eyes open but no longer looking at any of them, while the doctor examined him and drew the blankets up and put the stethoscope back into his bag and snapped the bag and only the boy knew that Sam too was going to die.

“Exhaustion,” the doctor said. “Shock maybe. A man his age swimming rivers in December. He’ll be all right. Just make him stay in bed for a day or two. Will there be somebody here with him?”

“There will be somebody here,” Major de Spain said.

They went back to the house, to the rank little room where Boon still sat on the pallet bed with Lion’s head under his hand while the men, the ones who had hunted behind Lion and the ones who had never seen him before today, came quietly in to look at him and went away. Then it was dawn and they all went out into the yard to look at Old Ben, with his eyes open too and his lips snarled back from his worn teeth and his mutilated foot and the little hard lumps under his skin which were the old bullets (there were fifty-two of them, buckshot rifle and ball) and the single almost invisible slit under his left shoulder where Boon’s blade had finally found his life. Then Ash began to beat on the bottom of the dishpan with a heavy spoon to call them to breakfast and it was the first time he could remember hearing no sound from the dogs under the kitchen while they were eating. It was as if the old bear, even dead there in the yard, was a more potent terror still than they could face without Lion between them.

The rain had stopped during the night. By midmorning the thin sun appeared, rapidly burning away mist and cloud, warming the air and the earth; it would be one of those windless Mississippi December days which are a sort of Indian summer’s Indian summer. They moved Lion out to the front gallery, into the sun. It was Boon’s idea. “Goddamn it,” he said, “he never did want to stay in the house until I made him. You know that.” He took a crowbar and loosened the floor boards under his pallet bed so it could be raised, mattress and all, without disturbing Lion’s position, and they carried him out to the gallery and put him down facing the woods.

Then he and the doctor and McCaslin and Major de Spain went to Sam’s hut. This time Sam didn’t open his eyes and his breathing was so quiet, so peaceful that they could hardly see that he breathed. The doctor didn’t even take out his stethoscope nor even touch him. “He’s all right,” the doctor said. “He didn’t even catch cold. He just quit.”

“Quit?” McCaslin said.

“Yes. Old people do that sometimes. Then they get a good night’s sleep or maybe it’s just a drink of whisky, and they change their minds.”

They returned to the house. And then they began to arrive—the swamp-dwellers, the gaunt men who ran trap-lines and lived on quinine and coons and river water, the farmers of little corn- and cotton-patches along the bottoms edge whose fields and cribs and pig-pens the old bear had rifled, the loggers from the camp and the sawmill men from Hoke’s and the town men from further away than that, whose hounds the old bear had slain and traps and deadfalls he had wrecked and whose lead he carried. They came up mounted and on foot and in wagons, to enter the yard and look at him and then go on to the front where Lion lay, filling the little yard and overflowing it until there were almost a hundred of them squatting and standing in the warm and drowsing sunlight, talking quietly of hunting, of the game and the dogs which ran it, of hounds and bear and deer and men of yesterday vanished from the earth, while from time to time the great blue dog would open his eyes, not as if he were listening to them but as though to look at the woods for a moment before closing his eyes again, to remember the woods or to see that they were still there. He died at sundown.

Major de Spain broke camp that night. They carried Lion into the woods, or Boon carried him that is, wrapped in a quilt from his bed, just as he had refused to let anyone else touch Lion yesterday until the doctor got there; Boon carrying Lion, and the boy and General Compson and Walter and still almost fifty of them following with lanterns and lighted pine-knots—men from Hoke’s and even further, who would have to ride out of the bottom in the dark, and swampers and trappers who would have to walk even, scattering toward the little hidden huts where they lived. And Boon would let nobody else dig the grave either and lay Lion in it and cover him and then General Compson stood at the head of it while the blaze and smoke of the pine-knots streamed away among the winter branches and spoke as he would have spoken over a man. Then they returned to camp. Major de Spain and McCaslin and Ash had rolled and tied all the bedding. The mules were hitched to the wagon and pointed out of the bottom and the wagon was already loaded and the stove in the kitchen was cold and the table was set with scraps of cold food and bread and only the coffee was hot when the boy ran into the kitchen where Major de Spain and McCaslin had already eaten. “What?” he cried. “What? I’m not going.”

“Yes,” McCaslin said, “we’re going out tonight. Major wants to get on back home.”

“No!” he said. “I’m going to stay.”

“You’ve got to be back in school Monday. You’ve already missed a week more than I intended. It will take you from now until Monday to catch up. Sam’s all right. You heard Doctor Crawford. I’m going to leave Boon and Tennie’s Jim both to stay with him until he feels like getting up.”

He was panting. The others had come in. He looked rapidly and almost frantically around at the other faces. Boon had a fresh bottle. He upended it and started the cork by striking the bottom of the bottle with the heel of his hand and drew the cork with his teeth and spat it out and drank. “You’re damn right you’re going back to school,” Boon said. “Or I’ll burn the tail off of you myself if Cass dont, whether you are sixteen or sixty. Where in hell do you expect to get without education? Where would Cass be? Where in hell would I be if I hadn’t never went to school?”

He looked at McCaslin again. He could feel his breath coming shorter and shorter and shallower and shallower, as if there were not enough air in the kitchen for that many to breathe. “This is just Thursday. I’ll come home Sunday night on one of the horses. I’ll come home Sunday, then. I’ll make up the time I lost studying Sunday night. McCaslin,” he said, without even despair.

“No, I tell you,” McCaslin said. “Sit down here and eat your supper. We’re going out to——”

“Hold up, Cass,” General Compson said. The boy did not know General Compson had moved until he put his hand on his shoulder. “What is it, bud?” he said.

“I’ve got to stay,” he said. “I’ve got to.”

“All right,” General Compson said. “You can stay. If missing an extra week of school is going to throw you so far behind you’ll have to sweat to find out what some hired pedagogue put between the covers of a book, you better quit altogether.—And you shut up, Cass,” he said, though McCaslin had not spoken. “You’ve got one foot straddled into a farm and the other foot straddled into a bank; you aint even got a good hand-hold where this boy was already an old man long before you damned Sartorises and Edmondses invented farms and banks to keep yourselves from having to find out what this boy was born knowing and fearing too maybe but without being afraid, that could go ten miles on a compass because he wanted to look at a bear none of us had ever got near enough to put a bullet in and looked at the bear and came the ten miles back on the compass in the dark; maybe by God that’s the why and the wherefore of farms and banks.—I reckon you still aint going to tell what it is?”

But still he could not. “I’ve got to stay,” he said.

“All right,” General Compson said. “There’s plenty of grub left. And you’ll come home Sunday, like you promised McCaslin? Not Sunday night: Sunday.”

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“All right,” General Compson said. “Sit down and eat, boys,” he said. “Let’s get started. It’s going to be cold before we get home.”

They ate. The wagon was already loaded and ready to depart; all they had to do was to get into it. Boon would drive them out to the road, to the farmer’s stable where the surrey had been left. He stood beside the wagon, in silhouette on the sky, turbaned like a Paythan and taller than any there, the bottle tilted. Then he flung the bottle from his lips without even lowering it, spinning and glinting in the faint starlight, empty. “Them that’s going,” he said, “get in the goddamn wagon. Them that aint, get out of the goddamn way.” The others got in. Boon mounted to the seat beside General Compson and the wagon moved, on into the obscurity until the boy could no longer see it, even the moving density of it amid the greater night. But he could still hear it, for a long while: the slow, deliberate banging of the wooden frame as it lurched from rut to rut. And he could hear Boon even when he could no longer hear the wagon. He was singing, harsh, tuneless, loud.

That was Thursday. On Saturday morning Tennie’s Jim left on McCaslin’s woods-horse which had not been out of the bottom one time now in six years, and late that afternoon rode through the gate on the spent horse and on to the commissary where McCaslin was rationing the tenants and the wage-hands for the coming week, and this time McCaslin forestalled any necessity or risk of having to wait while Major de Spain’s surrey was being horsed and harnessed. He took their own, and with Tennie’s Jim already asleep in the back seat he drove in to Jefferson and waited while Major de Spain changed to boots and put on his overcoat, and they drove the thirty miles in the dark of that night and at daybreak on Sunday morning they swapped to the waiting mare and mule and as the sun rose they rode out of the jungle and onto the low ridge where they had buried Lion: the low mound of unannealed earth where Boon’s spade-marks still showed and beyond the grave the platform of freshly cut saplings bound between four posts and the blanket-wrapped bundle upon the platform and Boon and the boy squatting between the platform and the grave until Boon, the bandage removed, ripped, from his head so that the long scoriations of Old Ben’s claws resembled crusted tar in the sunlight, sprang up and threw down upon them with the old gun with which he had never been known to hit anything although McCaslin was already off the mule, kicked both feet free of the irons and vaulted down before the mule had stopped, walking toward Boon.

“Stand back,” Boon said. “By God, you wont touch him. Stand back, McCaslin.” Still McCaslin came on, fast yet without haste.

“Cass!” Major de Spain said. Then he said “Boon! You, Boon!” and he was down too and the boy rose too, quickly, and still McCaslin came on not fast but steady and walked up to the grave and reached his hand steadily out, quickly yet still not fast, and took hold the gun by the middle so that he and Boon faced one another across Lion’s grave, both holding the gun, Boon’s spent indomitable amazed and frantic face almost a head higher than McCaslin’s beneath the black scoriations of beast’s claws and then Boon’s chest began to heave as though there were not enough air in all the woods, in all the wilderness, for all of them, for him and anyone else, even for him alone.

“Turn it loose, Boon,” McCaslin said.

“You damn little spindling—” Boon said. “Dont you know I can take it away from you? Dont you know I can tie it around your neck like a damn cravat?”

“Yes,” McCaslin said. “Turn it loose, Boon.”

“This is the way he wanted it. He told us. He told us exactly how to do it. And by God you aint going to move him. So we did it like he said, and I been sitting here ever since to keep the damn wildcats and varmints away from him and by God—” Then McCaslin had the gun, down-slanted while he pumped the slide, the five shells snicking out of it so fast that the last one was almost out before the first one touched the ground and McCaslin dropped the gun behind him without once having taken his eyes from Boon’s.

“Did you kill him, Boon?” he said. Then Boon moved. He turned, he moved like he was still drunk and then for a moment blind too, one hand out as he blundered toward the big tree and seemed to stop walking before he reached the tree so that he plunged, fell toward it, flinging up both hands and catching himself against the tree and turning until his back was against it, backing with the tree’s trunk his wild spent scoriated face and the tremendous heave and collapse of his chest, McCaslin following, facing him again, never once having moved his eyes from Boon’s eyes. “Did you kill him, Boon?”

“No!” Boon said. “No!”

“Tell the truth,” McCaslin said. “I would have done it if he had asked me to.” Then the boy moved. He was between them, facing McCaslin; the water felt as if it had burst and sprung not from his eyes alone but from his whole face, like sweat.

“Leave him alone!” he cried. “Goddamn it! Leave him alone!”


then he was twenty-one. He could say it, himself and his cousin juxtaposed not against the wilderness but against the tamed land which was to have been his heritage, the land which old Carothers McCaslin his grandfather had bought with white man’s money from the wild men whose grandfathers without guns hunted it, and tamed and ordered or believed he had tamed and ordered it for the reason that the human beings he held in bondage and in the power of life and death had removed the forest from it and in their sweat scratched the surface of it to a depth of perhaps fourteen inches in order to grow something out of it which had not been there before and which could be translated back into the money he who believed he had bought it had had to pay to get it and hold it and a reasonable profit too: and for which reason old Carothers McCaslin, knowing better, could raise his children, his descendants and heirs, to believe the land was his to hold and bequeath since the strong and ruthless man has a cynical foreknowledge of his own vanity and pride and strength and a contempt for all his get: just as, knowing better, Major de Spain and his fragment of that wilderness which was bigger and older than any recorded deed: just as, knowing better, old Thomas Sutpen, from whom Major de Spain had had his fragment for money: just as Ikkemotubbe, the Chickasaw chief, from whom Thomas Sutpen had had the fragment for money or rum or whatever it was, knew in his turn that not even a fragment of it had been his to relinquish or sell

not against the wilderness but against the land, not in pursuit and lust but in relinquishment, and in the commissary as it should have been, not the heart perhaps but certainly the solar-plexus of the repudiated and relinquished: the square, galleried, wooden building squatting like a portent above the fields whose laborers it still held in thrall ’65 or no and placarded over with advertisements for snuff and cures for chills and salves and potions manufactured and sold by white men to bleach the pigment and straighten the hair of Negroes that they might resemble the very race which for two hundred years had held them in bondage and from which for another hundred years not even a bloody civil war would have set them completely free

himself and his cousin amid the old smells of cheese and salt meat and kerosene and harness, the ranked shelves of tobacco and overalls and bottled medicine and thread and plow-bolts, the barrels and kegs of flour and meal and molasses and nails, the wall pegs dependant with plowlines and plow-collars and hames and trace-chains, and the desk and the shelf above it on which rested the ledgers in which McCaslin recorded the slow outward trickle of food and supplies and equipment which returned each fall as cotton made and ginned and sold (two threads frail as truth and impalpable as equators yet cable-strong to bind for life them who made the cotton to the land their sweat fell on), and the older ledgers clumsy and archaic in size and shape, on the yellowed pages of which were recorded in the faded hand of his father Theophilus and his uncle Amodeus during the two decades before the Civil War, the manumission in title at least of Carothers McCaslin’s slaves:

‘Relinquish,’ McCaslin said. ‘Relinquish. You, the direct male descendant of him who saw the opportunity and took it, bought the land, took the land, got the land no matter how, held it to bequeath, no matter how, out of the old grant, the first patent, when it was a wilderness of wild beasts and wilder men, and cleared it, translated it into something to bequeath to his children, worthy of bequeathment for his descendants’ ease and security and pride and to perpetuate his name and accomplishments. Not only the male descendant but the only and last descendant in the male line and in the third generation, while I am not only four generations from old Carothers, I derived through a woman and the very McCaslin in my name is mine only by sufferance and courtesy and my grandmother’s pride in what that man accomplished whose legacy and monument you think you can repudiate.’ and he

‘I cant repudiate it. It was never mine to repudiate. It was never Father’s and Uncle Buddy’s to bequeath me to repudiate because it was never Grandfather’s to bequeath them to bequeath me to repudiate because it was never old Ikkemotubbe’s to sell to Grandfather for bequeathment and repudiation. Because it was never Ikkemotubbe’s fathers’ fathers’ to bequeath Ikkemotubbe to sell to Grandfather or any man because on the instant when Ikkemotubbe discovered, realised, that he could sell it for money, on that instant it ceased ever to have been his forever, father to father to father, and the man who bought it bought nothing.’

‘Bought nothing?’ and he

‘Bought nothing. Because He told in the Book how He created the earth, made it and looked at it and said it was all right, and then He made man. He made the earth first and peopled it with dumb creatures, and then He created man to be His overseer on the earth and to hold suzerainty over the earth and the animals on it in His name, not to hold for himself and his descendants inviolable title forever, generation after generation, to the oblongs and squares of the earth, but to hold the earth mutual and intact in the communal anonymity of brotherhood, and all the fee He asked was pity and humility and sufferance and endurance and the sweat of his face for bread. And I know what you are going to say,’ he said: ‘That nevertheless Grandfather—’ and McCaslin

‘—did own it. And not the first. Not alone and not the first since, as your Authority states, man was dispossessed of Eden. Nor yet the second and still not alone, on down through the tedious and shabby chronicle of His chosen sprung from Abraham, and of the sons of them who dispossessed Abraham, and of the five hundred years during which half the known world and all it contained was chattel to one city as this plantation and all the life it contained was chattel and revokeless thrall to this commissary store and those ledgers yonder during your grandfather’s life, and the next thousand years while men fought over the fragments of that collapse until at last even the fragments were exhausted and men snarled over the gnawed bones of the old world’s worthless evening until an accidental egg discovered to them a new hemisphere. So let me say it: That nevertheless and notwithstanding old Carothers did own it. Bought it, got it, no matter; kept it, held it, no matter; bequeathed it: else why do you stand here relinquishing and repudiating? Held it, kept it for fifty years until you could repudiate it, while He—this Arbiter, this Architect, this Umpire—condoned—or did He? looked down and saw—or did He? Or at least did nothing: saw, and could not, or did not see; saw, and would not, or perhaps He would not see—perverse, impotent, or blind: which?’ and he

‘Dispossessed.’ and McCaslin

‘What?’ and he

‘Dispossessed. Not impotent: He didn’t condone; not blind, because He watched it. And let me say it. Dispossessed of Eden. Dispossessed of Canaan, and those who dispossessed him dispossessed him dispossessed, and the five hundred years of absentee landlords in the Roman bagnios, and the thousand years of wild men from the northern woods who dispossessed them and devoured their ravished substance ravished in turn again and then snarled in what you call the old world’s worthless twilight over the old world’s gnawed bones, blasphemous in His name until He used a simple egg to discover to them a new world where a nation of people could be founded in humility and pity and sufferance and pride of one to another. And Grandfather did own the land nevertheless and notwithstanding because He permitted it, not impotent and not condoning and not blind because He ordered and watched it. He saw the land already accursed even as Ikkemotubbe and Ikkemotubbe’s father old Issetibbeha and old Issetibbeha’s fathers too held it, already tainted even before any white man owned it by what Grandfather and his kind, his fathers, had brought into the new land which He had vouchsafed them out of pity and sufferance, on condition of pity and humility and sufferance and endurance, from that old world’s corrupt and worthless twilight as though in the sailfuls of the old world’s tainted wind which drove the ships—’ and McCaslin


‘—and no hope for the land anywhere so long as Ikkemotubbe and Ikkemotubbe’s descendants held it in unbroken succession. Maybe He saw that only by voiding the land for a time of Ikkemotubbe’s blood and substituting for it another blood, could He accomplish His purpose. Maybe He knew already what that other blood would be, maybe it was more than justice that only the white man’s blood was available and capable to raise the white man’s curse, more than vengeance when—’ and McCaslin


‘—when He used the blood which had brought in the evil to destroy the evil as doctors use fever to burn up fever, poison to slay poison. Maybe He chose Grandfather out of all of them He might have picked. Maybe He knew that Grandfather himself would not serve His purpose because Grandfather was born too soon too, but that Grandfather would have descendants, the right descendants; maybe He had foreseen already the descendants Grandfather would have, maybe He saw already in Grandfather the seed progenitive of the three generations He saw it would take to set at least some of His lowly people free—’ and McCaslin

‘The sons of Ham. You who quote the Book: the sons of Ham.’ and he

‘There are some things He said in the Book, and some things reported of Him that He did not say. And I know what you will say now: That if truth is one thing to me and another thing to you, how will we choose which is truth? You dont need to choose. The heart already knows. He didn’t have His Book written to be read by what must elect and choose, but by the heart, not by the wise of the earth because maybe they dont need it or maybe the wise no longer have any heart, but by the doomed and lowly of the earth who have nothing else to read with but the heart. Because the men who wrote His Book for Him were writing about truth and there is only one truth and it covers all things that touch the heart.’ and McCaslin

‘So these men who transcribed His Book for Him were sometime liars.’ and he

‘Yes. Because they were human men. They were trying to write down the heart’s truth out of the heart’s driving complexity, for all the complex and troubled hearts which would beat after them. What they were trying to tell, what He wanted said, was too simple. Those for whom they transcribed His words could not have believed them. It had to be expounded in the everyday terms which they were familiar with and could comprehend, not only those who listened but those who told it too, because if they who were that near to Him as to have been elected from among all who breathed and spoke language to transcribe and relay His words, could comprehend truth only through the complexity of passion and lust and hate and fear which drives the heart, what distance back to truth must they traverse whom truth could only reach by word-of-mouth?’ and McCaslin

‘I might answer that, since you have taken to proving your points and disproving mine by the same text, I dont know. But I dont say that, because you have answered yourself: No time at all if, as you say, the heart knows truth, the infallible and unerring heart. And perhaps you are right, since although you admitted three generations from old Carothers to you, there were not three. There were not even completely two. Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy. And they not the first and not alone. A thousand other Bucks and Buddies in less than two generations and sometimes less than one in this land which so you claim God created and man himself cursed and tainted. Not to mention 1865.’ and he

‘Yes. More men than Father and Uncle Buddy,’ not even glancing toward the shelf above the desk, nor did McCaslin. They did not need to. To him it was as though the ledgers in their scarred cracked leather bindings were being lifted down one by one in their fading sequence and spread open on the desk or perhaps upon some apocryphal Bench or even Altar or perhaps before the Throne Itself for a last perusal and contemplation and refreshment of the Allknowledgeable before the yellowed pages and the brown thin ink in which was recorded the injustice and a little at least of its amelioration and restitution faded back forever into the anonymous communal original dust

the yellowed pages scrawled in fading ink by the hand first of his grandfather and then of his father and uncle, bachelors up to and past fifty and then sixty, the one who ran the plantation and the farming of it and the other who did the housework and the cooking and continued to do it even after his twin married and the boy himself was born

the two brothers who as soon as their father was buried moved out of the tremendously-conceived, the almost barnlike edifice which he had not even completed, into a one-room log cabin which the two of them built themselves and added other rooms to while they lived in it, refusing to allow any slave to touch any timber of it other than the actual raising into place the logs which two men alone could not handle, and domiciled all the slaves in the big house some of the windows of which were still merely boarded up with odds and ends of plank or with the skins of bear and deer nailed over the empty frames: each sundown the brother who superintended the farming would parade the Negroes as a first sergeant dismisses a company, and herd them willynilly, man woman and child, without question protest or recourse, into the tremendous abortive edifice scarcely yet out of embryo, as if even old Carothers McCaslin had paused aghast at the concrete indication of his own vanity’s boundless conceiving: he would call his mental roll and herd them in and with a hand-wrought nail as long as a flenching-knife and suspended from a short deerhide thong attached to the door-jamb for that purpose, he would nail to the door of that house which lacked half its windows and had no hinged back door at all, so that presently and for fifty years afterward, when the boy himself was big to hear and remember it, there was in the land a sort of folk-tale: of the countryside all night long full of skulking McCaslin slaves dodging the moonlit roads and the Patrol-riders to visit other plantations, and of the unspoken gentlemen’s agreement between the two white men and the two dozen black ones that, after the white man had counted them and driven the home-made nail into the front door at sundown, neither of the white men would go around behind the house and look at the back door, provided that all the Negroes were behind the front one when the brother who drove it drew out the nail again at daybreak

the twins who were identical even in their handwriting, unless you had specimens side by side to compare, and even when both hands appeared on the same page (as often happened, as if, long since past any oral intercourse, they had used the diurnally advancing pages to conduct the unavoidable business of the compulsion which had traversed all the waste wilderness of North Mississippi in 1830 and ’40 and singled them out to drive) they both looked as though they had been written by the same perfectly normal ten-year-old boy, even to the spelling, except that the spelling did not improve as one by one the slaves which Carothers McCaslin had inherited and purchased— Roscius and Phoebe and Thucydides and Eunice and their descendants, and Sam Fathers and his mother for both of whom he had swapped an underbred trotting gelding to old Ikkemotubbe, the Chickasaw chief from whom he had likewise bought the land, and Tennie Beauchamp whom the twin Amodeus had won from a neighbor in a poker-game, and the anomaly calling itself Percival Brownlee which the twin Theophilus had purchased, neither he nor his brother ever knew why apparently, from Bedford Forrest while he was still only a slave-dealer and not yet a general (It was a single page, not long and covering less than a year, not seven months in fact, begun in the hand which the boy had learned to distinguish as that of his father:

Percavil Brownly 26yr Old. cleark @ Bookepper. bought from N.B.Forest at Cold Water 3 Mar 1856 $265. dolars

and beneath that, in the same hand:

5 mar 1856 No bookepper any way Cant read. Can write his Name but I already put that down My self Says he can Plough but dont look like it to Me. sent to Feild to day Mar 5 1856

and the same hand:

6 Mar 1856 Cant plough either Says he aims to be a Precher so may be he can lead live stock to Crick to Drink

and this time it was the other, the hand which he now recognised as his uncle’s when he could see them both on the same page:

Mar 23th 1856 Cant do that either Except one at a Time Get shut of him

then the first again:

24 Mar 1856 Who in hell would buy him

then the second:

19th of Apr 1856 Nobody You put yourself out of Market at Cold Water two months ago I never said sell him Free him

the first:

22 Apr 1856 Ill get it out of him

the second:

Jun 13th 1856 How $1 per yr 265$ 265 yrs Wholl sign his Free paper

then the first again:

1 Oct 1856 Mule josephine Broke Leg @ shot Wrong stall wrong niger wrong everything $100. dolors

and the same:

2 Oct 1856 Freed Debit McCaslin @ McCaslin $265. dolars

then the second again:

Oct 3th Debit Theophilus McCaslin Niger 265$ Mule 100$ 365$ He hasnt gone yet Father should be here

then the first:

3 Oct 1856 Son of a bitch wont leave What would father done

the second:

29th of Oct 1856 Renamed him

the first:

31 Oct 1856 Renamed him what

the second:

Chrstms 1856 Spintrius

) took substance and even a sort of shadowy life with their passions and complexities too as page followed page and year year; all there, not only the general and condoned injustice and its slow amortization but the specific tragedy which had not been condoned and could never be amortized, the new page and the new ledger, the hand which he could now recognise at first glance as his father’s:

Father dide Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin, Callina 1772 Missippy 1837. Dide and burid 27 June 1837

Roskus. rased by Granfather in Callina Dont know how old. Freed 27 June 1837 Dont want to leave. Dide and Burid 12 Jan 1841

Fibby Roskus Wife, bought by granfather in Callina says Fifty Freed 27 June 1837 Dont want to leave. Dide and burd 1 Aug 1849

Thucydus Roskus @ Fibby Son born in Callina 1779. Refused 10acre peace fathers Will 28 June 1837 Refused Cash offer $200. dolars from A.@ T. McCaslin 28 Jun 1837 Wants to stay and work it out

and beneath this and covering the next five pages and almost that many years, the slow, day-by-day accruement of the wages allowed him and the food and clothing—the molasses and meat and meal, the cheap durable shirts and jeans and shoes and now and then a coat against rain and cold—charged against the slowly yet steadily mounting sum of balance (and it would seem to the boy that he could actually see the black man, the slave whom his white owner had forever manumitted by the very act from which the black man could never be free so long as memory lasted, entering the commissary, asking permission perhaps of the white man’s son to see the ledger-page which he could not even read, not even asking for the white man’s word, which he would have had to accept for the reason that there was absolutely no way under the sun for him to test it, as to how the account stood, how much longer before he could go and never return, even if only as far as Jefferson seventeen miles away) on to the double pen-stroke closing the final entry:

3 Nov 1841 By Cash to Thucydus McCaslin $200. dolars Set Up blaksmith in J. Dec 1841 Dide and burid in J. 17 feb 1854 Eunice Bought by Father in New Orleans 1807 $650. dolars. Marrid to Thucydus 1809 Drownd in Crick Cristmas Day 1832

and then the other hand appeared, the first time he had seen it in the ledger to distinguish it as his uncle’s, the cook and housekeeper whom even McCaslin, who had known him and the boy’s father for sixteen years before the boy was born, remembered as sitting all day long in the rocking chair from which he cooked the food, before the kitchen fire on which he cooked it:

June 21th 1833 Drownd herself

and the first:

23 Jun 1833 Who in hell ever heard of a niger drownding him self

and the second, unhurried, with a complete finality; the two identical entries might have been made with a rubber stamp save for the date:

Aug 13th 1833 Drownd herself

and he thought But why? But why? He was sixteen then. It was neither the first time he had been alone in the commissary nor the first time he had taken down the old ledgers familiar on their shelf above the desk ever since he could remember. As a child and even after nine and ten and eleven, when he had learned to read, he would look up at the scarred and cracked backs and ends but with no particular desire to open them, and though he intended to examine them someday because he realised that they probably contained a chronological and much more comprehensive though doubtless tedious record than he would ever get from any other source, not alone of his own flesh and blood but of all his people, not only the whites but the black one too, who were as much a part of his ancestry as his white progenitors, and of the land which they had all held and used in common and fed from and on and would continue to use in common without regard to color or titular ownership, it would only be on some idle day when he was old and perhaps even bored a little since what the old books contained would be after all these years fixed immutably, finished, unalterable, harmless. Then he was sixteen. He knew what he was going to find before he found it. He got the commissary key from McCaslin’s room after midnight while McCaslin was asleep and with the commissary door shut and locked behind him and the forgotten lantern stinking anew the rank dead icy air, he leaned above the yellowed page and thought not Why drowned herself, but thinking what he believed his father had thought when he found his brother’s first comment: Why did Uncle Buddy think she had drowned herself? finding, beginning to find on the next succeeding page what he knew he would find, only this was still not it because he already knew this:

Tomasina called Tomy Daughter of Thucydus @ Eunice Born 1810 dide in Child bed June 1833 and Burd. Yr stars fell

nor the next:

Turl Son of Thucydus @ Eunice Tomy born Jun 1833 yr stars fell Fathers will

and nothing more, no tedious recording filling this page of wages day by day and food and clothing charged against them, no entry of his death and burial because he had outlived his white half-brothers and the books which McCaslin kept did not include obituaries: just Fathers will and he had seen that too: old Carothers’ bold cramped hand far less legible than his sons’ even and not much better in spelling, who while capitalising almost every noun and verb, made no effort to punctuate or construct whatever, just as he made no effort either to explain or obfuscate the thousand-dollar legacy to the son of an unmarried slave-girl, to be paid only at the child’s coming-of-age, bearing the consequence of the act of which there was still no definite incontrovertible proof that he acknowledged, not out of his own substance but penalising his sons with it, charging them a cash forfeit on the accident of their own paternity; not even a bribe for silence toward his own fame since his fame would suffer only after he was no longer present to defend it, flinging almost contemptuously, as he might a cast-off hat or pair of shoes, the thousand dollars which could have had no more reality to him under those conditions than it would have to the Negro, the slave who would not even see it until he came of age, twenty-one years too late to begin to learn what money was. So I reckon that was cheaper than saying My son to a nigger he thought. Even if My son wasn’t but just two words. But there must have been love he thought. Some sort of love. Even what he would have called love: not just an afternoon’s or a night’s spittoon. There was the old man, old, within five years of his life’s end, long a widower and, since his sons were not only bachelors but were approaching middleage, lonely in the house and doubtless even bored since his plantation was established now and functioning and there was enough money now, too much of it probably for a man whose vices even apparently remained below his means; there was the girl, husbandless and young, only twenty-three when the child was born: perhaps he had sent for her at first out of loneliness, to have a young voice and movement in the house, summoned her, bade her mother send her each morning to sweep the floors and make the beds and the mother acquiescing since that was probably already understood, already planned: the only child of a couple who were not field hands and who held themselves something above the other slaves not alone for that reason but because the husband and his father and mother too had been inherited by the white man from his father, and the white man himself had travelled three hundred miles and better to New Orleans in a day when men travelled by horseback or steamboat, and bought the girl’s mother as a wife for

and that was all. The old frail pages seemed to turn of their own accord even while he thought His own daughter His own daughter. No No Not even him back to that one where the white man (not even a widower then) who never went anywhere any more than his sons in their time ever did and who did not need another slave, had gone all the way to New Orleans and bought one. And Tomey’s Terrel was still alive when the boy was ten years old and he knew from his own observation and memory that there had already been some white in Tomey’s Terrel’s blood before his father gave him the rest of it; and looking down at the yellowed page spread beneath the yellow glow of the lantern smoking and stinking in that rank chill midnight room fifty years later, he seemed to see her actually walking into the icy creek on that Christmas day six months before her daughter’s and her lover’s (Her first lover’s he thought. Her first) child was born, solitary, inflexible, griefless, ceremonial, in formal and succinct repudiation of grief and despair who had already had to repudiate belief and hope

that was all. He would never need look at the ledgers again nor did he; the yellowed pages in their fading and implacable succession were as much a part of his consciousness and would remain so forever, as the fact of his own nativity:

Tennie Beauchamp 21yrs Won by Amodeus McCaslin from Hubert Beauchamp Esqre Possible Strait against three Treys in sigt Not called 1851 Marrid to Tomys Turl 1859

and no date of freedom because her freedom, as well as that of her first surviving child, derived not from Buck and Buddy McCaslin in the commissary but from a stranger in Washington and no date of death and burial, not only because McCaslin kept no obituaries in his books, but because in this year 1883 she was still alive and would remain so to see a grandson by her last surviving child:

Amodeus McCaslin Beauchamp Son of tomys Turl @ Tennie Beauchamp 1859 dide 1859

then his uncle’s hand entire, because his father was now a member of the cavalry command of that man whose name as a slave-dealer he could not even spell: and not even a page and not even a full line:

Dauter Tomes Turl and tenny 1862

and not even a line and not even a sex and no cause given though the boy could guess it because McCaslin was thirteen then and he remembered how there was not always enough to eat in more places than Vicksburg:

Child of tomes Turl and Tenny 1863

and the same hand again and this one lived, as though Tennie’s perseverance and the fading and diluted ghost of old Carothers’ ruthlessness had at last conquered even starvation: and clearer, fuller, more carefully written and spelled than the boy had yet seen it, as if the old man, who should have been a woman to begin with, trying to run what was left of the plantation in his brother’s absence in the intervals of cooking and caring for himself and the fourteen-year-old orphan, had taken as an omen for renewed hope the fact that this nameless inheritor of slaves was at least remaining alive long enough to receive a name:

James Thucydus Beauchamp Son of Tomes Turl and Tenny Beauchamp Born 29th december 1864 and both Well Wanted to call him Theophilus but Tride Amodeus McCaslin and Callina McCaslin and both dide so Disswaded Them Born at Two clock A,m, both Well

but no more, nothing; it would be another two years yet before the boy, almost a man now, would return from the abortive trip into Tennessee with the still-intact third of old Carothers’ legacy to his Negro son and his descendants, which as the three surviving children established at last one by one their apparent intention of surviving, their white half-uncles had increased to a thousand dollars each, conditions permitting, as they came of age, and completed the page himself as far as it would even be completed when that day was long passed beyond which a man born in 1864 (or 1867 either, when he himself saw light) could have expected or himself hoped or even wanted to be still alive; his own hand now, queerly enough resembling neither his father’s nor his uncle’s nor even McCaslin’s, but like that of his grandfather’s save for the spelling:

Vanished sometime on night of his twenty-first birthday Dec 29 1885. Traced by Isaac McCaslin to Jackson Tenn. and there lost. His third of legacy $1000.00 returned to McCaslin Edmonds Trustee this day Jan 12 1886

but not yet: that would be two years yet, and now his father’s again, whose old commander was now quit of soldiering and slave-trading both; once more in the ledger and then not again and more illegible than ever, almost indecipherable at all from the rheumatism which now crippled him and almost completely innocent now even of any sort of spelling as well as punctuation, as if the four years during which he had followed the sword of the only man ever breathing who ever sold him a Negro, let alone beat him in a trade, had convinced him not only of the vanity of faith and hope but of orthography too:

Miss sophonsiba b dtr t t @ t 1869

but not of belief and will because it was there, written, as McCaslin had told him, with the left hand, but there in the ledger one time more and then not again, for the boy himself was a year old, and when Lucas was born six years later, his father and uncle had been dead inside the same twelve-months almost five years; his own hand again, who was there and saw it, 1886, she was just seventeen, two years younger than himself, and he was in the commissary when McCaslin entered out of the first of dusk and said, ‘He wants to marry Fonsiba,’ like that: and he looked past McCaslin and saw the man, the stranger, taller than McCaslin and wearing better clothes than McCaslin and most of the other white men the boy knew habitually wore, who entered the room like a white man and stood in it like a white man, as though he had let McCaslin precede him into it not because McCaslin’s skin was white but simply because McCaslin lived there and knew the way, and who talked like a white man too, looking at him past McCaslin’s shoulder rapidly and keenly once and then no more, without further interest, as a mature and contained white man not impatient but just pressed for time might have looked. ‘Marry Fonsiba?’ he cried. ‘Marry Fonsiba?’ and then no more either, just watching and listening while McCaslin and the Negro talked:

‘To live in Arkansas, I believe you said.’

‘Yes. I have property there. A farm.’

‘Property? A farm? You own it?’


‘You dont say Sir, do you?’

‘To my elders, yes.’

‘I see. You are from the North.’

‘Yes. Since a child.’

‘Then your father was a slave.’

‘Yes. Once.’

‘Then how do you own a farm in Arkansas?’

‘I have a grant. It was my father’s. From the United States. For military service.’

‘I see,’ McCaslin said. ‘The Yankee army.’

‘The United States army,’ the stranger said; and then himself again, crying it at McCaslin’s back:

‘Call aunt Tennie! I’ll go get her! I’ll—’ But McCaslin was not even including him; the stranger did not even glance back toward his voice, the two of them speaking to one another again as if he were not even there:

‘Since you seem to have it all settled,’ McCaslin said, ‘why have you bothered to consult my authority at all?’

‘I dont,’ the stranger said. ‘I acknowledge your authority only so far as you admit your responsibility toward her as a female member of the family of which you are the head. I dont ask your permission. I——’

‘That will do!’ McCaslin said. But the stranger did not falter. It was neither as if he were ignoring McCaslin nor as if he had failed to hear him. It was as though he were making, not at all an excuse and not exactly a justification, but simply a statement which the situation absolutely required and demanded should be made in McCaslin’s hearing whether McCaslin listened to it or not. It was as if he were talking to himself, for himself to hear the words spoken aloud. They faced one another, not close yet at slightly less than foils’ distance, erect, their voices not raised, not impactive, just succinct:

‘—I inform you, notify you in advance as chief of her family. No man of honor could do less. Besides, you have, in your way, according to your lights and upbringing——’

‘That’s enough, I said,’ McCaslin said. ‘Be off this place by full dark. Go.’ But for another moment the other did not move, contemplating McCaslin with that detached and heatless look, as if he were watching reflected in McCaslin’s pupils the tiny image of the figure he was sustaining.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘After all, this is your house. And in your fashion you have. . . . But no matter. You are right. This is enough.’ He turned back toward the door; he paused again but only for a second, already moving while he spoke: ‘Be easy. I will be good to her.’ Then he was gone.

‘But how did she ever know him?’ the boy cried. ‘I never even heard of him before! And Fonsiba, that’s never been off this place except to go to church since she was born——’

‘Ha,’ McCaslin said. ‘Even their parents dont know until too late how seventeen-year-old girls ever met the men who marry them too, if they are lucky.’ And the next morning they were both gone, Fonsiba too. McCaslin never saw her again, nor did he, because the woman he found at last five months later was no one he had ever known. He carried a third of the three-thousand-dollar fund in gold in a money-belt, as when he had vainly traced Tennie’s Jim into Tennessee a year ago. They—the man—had left an address of some sort with Tennie, and three months later a letter came, written by the man although McCaslin’s wife Alice had taught Fonsiba to read and write too a little. But it bore a different postmark from the address the man had left with Tennie, and he travelled by rail as far as he could and then by contracted stage and then by a hired livery rig and then by rail again for a distance: an experienced traveller by now and an experienced bloodhound too and a successful one this time because he would have to be; as the slow interminable empty muddy December miles crawled and crawled and night followed night in hotels, in roadside taverns of rough logs and containing little else but a bar, and in the cabins of strangers and the hay of lonely barns, in none of which he dared undress because of his secret golden girdle like that of a disguised one of the Magi travelling incognito and not even hope to draw him but only determination and desperation, he would tell himself: I will have to find her. I will have to. We have already lost one of them. I will have to find her this time. He did. Hunched in the slow and icy rain, on a spent hired horse splashed to the chest and higher, he saw it—a single log edifice with a clay chimney which seemed in process of being flattened by the rain to a nameless and valueless rubble of dissolution in that roadless and even pathless waste of unfenced fallow and wilderness jungle—no barn, no stable, not so much as a hen-coop: just a log cabin built by hand and no clever hand either, a meagre pile of clumsily-cut firewood sufficient for about one day and not even a gaunt hound to come bellowing out from under the house when he rode up—a farm only in embryo, perhaps a good farm, maybe even a plantation someday, but not now, not for years yet and only then with labor, hard and enduring and unflagging work and sacrifice; he shoved open the crazy kitchen door in its awry frame and entered an icy gloom where not even a fire for cooking burned and after another moment saw, crouched into the wall’s angle behind a crude table, the coffee-colored face which he had known all his life but knew no more, the body which had been born within a hundred yards of the room that he was born in and in which some of his own blood ran but which was now completely inheritor of generation after generation to whom an unannounced white man on a horse was a white man’s hired Patroller wearing a pistol sometimes and a blacksnake whip always; he entered the next room, the only other room the cabin owned, and found, sitting in a rocking chair before the hearth, the man himself, reading—sitting there in the only chair in the house, before that miserable fire for which there was not wood sufficient to last twenty-four hours, in the same ministerial clothing in which he had entered the commissary five months ago and a pair of gold-framed spectacles which, when he looked up and then rose to his feet, the boy saw did not even contain lenses, reading a book in the midst of that desolation, that muddy waste fenceless and even pathless and without even a walled shed for stock to stand beneath: and over all, permeant, clinging to the man’s very clothing and exuding from his skin itself, that rank stink of baseless and imbecile delusion, that boundless rapacity and folly, of the carpet-bagger followers of victorious armies.

‘Dont you see?’ he cried. ‘Dont you see? This whole land, the whole South, is cursed, and all of us who derive from it, whom it ever suckled, white and black both, lie under the curse? Granted that my people brought the curse onto the land: maybe for that reason their descendants alone can—not resist it, not combat it—maybe just endure and outlast it until the curse is lifted. Then your peoples’ turn will come because we have forfeited ours. But not now. Not yet. Dont you see?’

The other stood now, the unfrayed garments still ministerial even if not quite so fine, the book closed upon one finger to keep the place, the lensless spectacles held like a music master’s wand in the other workless hand while the owner of it spoke his measured and sonorous imbecility of the boundless folly and the baseless hope: ‘You’re wrong. The curse you whites brought into this land has been lifted. It has been voided and discharged. We are seeing a new era, an era dedicated, as our founders intended it, to freedom, liberty and equality for all, to which this country will be the new Canaan——’

‘Freedom from what? From work? Canaan?’ He jerked his arm, comprehensive, almost violent: whereupon it all seemed to stand there about them, intact and complete and visible in the drafty, damp, heatless, Negro-stale Negro-rank sorry room—the empty fields without plow or seed to work them, fenceless against the stock which did not exist within or without the walled stable which likewise was not there. ‘What corner of Canaan is this?’

‘You are seeing it at a bad time. This is winter. No man farms this time of year.’

‘I see. And of course her need for food and clothing will stand still while the land lies fallow.’

‘I have a pension,’ the other said. He said it as a man might say I have grace or I own a gold mine. ‘I have my father’s pension too. It will arrive on the first of the month. What day is this?’

‘The eleventh,’ he said. ‘Twenty days more. And until then?’

‘I have a few groceries in the house from my credit account with the merchant in Midnight who banks my pension check for me. I have executed to him a power of attorney to handle it for me as a matter of mutual——’

‘I see. And if the groceries dont last the twenty days?’

‘I still have one more hog.’


‘Outside,’ the other said. ‘It is customary in this country to allow stock to range free during the winter for food. It comes up from time to time. But no matter if it doesn’t; I can probably trace its footprints when the need——’

‘Yes!’ he cried. ‘Because no matter: you still have the pension check. And the man in Midnight will cash it and pay himself out of it for what you have already eaten and if there is any left over, it is yours. And the hog will be eaten by then or you still cant catch it, and then what will you do?’

‘It will be almost spring then,’ the other said. ‘I am planning in the spring——’

‘It will be January,’ he said. ‘And then February. And then more than half of March—’ and when he stopped again in the kitchen she had not moved, she did not even seem to breathe or to be alive except her eyes watching him; when he took a step toward her it was still not movement because she could have retreated no further: only the tremendous fathomless ink-colored eyes in the narrow, thin, too thin coffee-colored face watching him without alarm, without recognition, without hope. ‘Fonsiba,’ he said. ‘Fonsiba. Are you all right?’

‘I’m free,’ she said. Midnight was a tavern, a livery stable, a big store (that would be where the pension check banked itself as a matter of mutual elimination of bother and fret, he thought) and a little one, a saloon and a blacksmith shop. But there was a bank there too. The president (the owner, for all practical purposes) of it was a translated Mississippian who had been one of Forrest’s men too: and his body lightened of the golden belt for the first time since he left home eight days ago, with pencil and paper he multiplied three dollars by twelve months and divided it into one thousand dollars; it would stretch that way over almost twenty-eight years and for twenty-eight years at least she would not starve, the banker promising to send the three dollars himself by a trusty messenger on the fifteenth of each month and put it into her actual hand, and he returned home and that was all because in 1874 his father and his uncle were both dead and the old ledgers never again came down from the shelf above the desk to which his father had returned them for the last time that day in 1869. But he could have completed it:

Lucas Quintus Carothers McCaslin Beauchamp. Last surviving son and child of Tomey’s Terrel and Tennie Beauchamp. March 17, 1874

except that there was no need: not Lucius Quintus @c @c @c, but Lucas Quintus, not refusing to be called Lucius, because he simply eliminated that word from the name; not denying, declining the name itself, because he used three quarters of it; but simply taking the name and changing, altering it, making it no longer the white man’s but his own, by himself composed, himself selfprogenitive and nominate, by himself ancestored, as, for all the old ledgers recorded to the contrary, old Carothers himself was

and that was all: 1874 the boy; 1888 the man, repudiated denied and free; 1895 and husband but no father, unwidowered but without a wife, and found long since that no man is ever free and probably could not bear it if he were; married then and living in Jefferson in the little new jerrybuilt bungalow which his wife’s father had given them: and one morning Lucas stood suddenly in the doorway of the room where he was reading the Memphis paper and he looked at the paper’s dateline and thought It’s his birthday. He’s twenty-one today and Lucas said: ‘Whar’s the rest of that money old Carothers left? I wants it. All of it.’

that was all: and McCaslin

‘More men than that one Buck and Buddy to fumble-heed that truth so mazed for them that spoke it and so confused for them that heard yet still there was 1865:’ and he

‘But not enough. Not enough of even Father and Uncle Buddy to fumble-heed in even three generations not even three generations fathered by Grandfather not even if there had been nowhere beneath His sight any but Grandfather and so He would not even have needed to elect and choose. But He tried and I know what you will say. That having Himself created them He could have known no more of hope than He could have pride and grief but He didn’t hope He just waited because He had made them: not just because He had set them alive and in motion but because He had already worried with them so long: worried with them so long because He had seen how in individual cases they were capable of anything any height or depth remembered in mazed incomprehension out of heaven where hell was created too and so He must admit them or else admit His equal somewhere and so be no longer God and therefore must accept responsibility for what He Himself had done in order to live with Himself in His lonely and paramount heaven. And He probably knew it was vain but He had created them and knew them capable of all things because He had shaped them out of the primal Absolute which contained all and had watched them since in their individual exaltation and baseness and they themselves not knowing why nor how nor even when: until at last He saw that they were all Grandfather all of them and that even from them the elected and chosen the best the very best He could expect (not hope mind: not hope) would be Bucks and Buddies and not even enough of them and in the third generation not even Bucks and Buddies but—’ and McCaslin

‘Ah:’ and he

‘Yes. If He could see Father and Uncle Buddy in Grandfather He must have seen me too. —an Isaac born into a later life than Abraham’s and repudiating immolation: fatherless and therefore safe declining the altar because maybe this time the exasperated Hand might not supply the kid—’ and McCaslin

‘Escape:’ and he

‘All right. Escape.—Until one day He said what you told Fonsiba’s husband that afternoon here in this room: This will do. This is enough: not in exasperation or rage or even just sick to death as you were sick that day: just This is enough and looked about for one last time, for one time more since He had created them, upon this land this South for which He had done so much with woods for game and streams for fish and deep rich soil for seed and lush springs to sprout it and long summers to mature it and serene falls to harvest it and short mild winters for men and animals and saw no hope anywhere and looked beyond it where hope should have been, where to East North and West lay illimitable that whole hopeful continent dedicated as a refuge and sanctuary of liberty and freedom from what you called the old world’s worthless evening and saw the rich descendants of slavers, females of both sexes, to whom the black they shrieked of was another specimen another example like the Brazilian macaw brought home in a cage by a traveller, passing resolutions about horror and outrage in warm and air-proof halls: and the thundering cannonade of politicians earning votes and the medicine-shows of pulpiteers earning Chautauqua fees, to whom the outrage and the injustice were as much abstractions as Tariff or Silver or Immortality and who employed the very shackles of its servitude and the sorry rags of its regalia as they did the other beer and banners and mottoes redfire and brimstone and sleight-of-hand and musical handsaws: and the whirling wheels which manufactured for a profit the pristine replacements of the shackles and shoddy garments as they wore out and spun the cotton and made the gins which ginned it and the cars and ships which hauled it, and the men who ran the wheels for that profit and established and collected the taxes it was taxed with and the rates for hauling it and the commissions for selling it: and He could have repudiated them since they were his creation now and forever more throughout all their generations until not only that old world from which He had rescued them but this new one too which He had revealed and led them to as a sanctuary and refuge were become the same worthless tideless rock cooling in the last crimson evening except that out of all that empty sound and bootless fury one silence, among that loud and moiling all of them just one simple enough to believe that horror and outrage were first and last simply horror and outrage and was crude enough to act upon that, illiterate and had no words for talking or perhaps was just busy and had no time to, one out of them all who did not bother Him with cajolery and adjuration then pleading then threat and had not even bothered to inform Him in advance what he was about so that a lesser than He might have even missed the simple act of lifting the long ancestral musket down from the deerhorns above the door, whereupon He said My name is Brown too and the other So is mine and He Then mine or yours cant be because I am against it and the other So am I and He triumphantly Then where are you going with that gun? and the other told him in one sentence one word and He: amazed: Who knew neither hope nor pride nor grief But your Association, your Committee, your Officers. Where are your Minutes, your Motions, your Parliamentary Procedures? and the other I aint against them. They are all right I reckon for them that have the time. I am just against the weak because they are niggers being held in bondage by the strong just because they are white. So He turned once more to this land which He still intended to save because He had done so much for it—’ and McCaslin

‘What?’ and he

‘—to these people He was still committed to because they were his creations—’ and McCaslin

‘Turned back to us? His face to us?’ and he

‘—whose wives and daughters at least made soups and jellies for them when they were sick and carried the trays through the mud and the winter too into the stinking cabins and sat in the stinking cabins and kept fires going until crises came and passed but that was not enough: and when they were very sick had them carried into the big house itself into the company room itself maybe and nursed them there which the white man would have done too for any other of his cattle that was sick but at least the man who hired one from a livery wouldn’t have and still that was not enough: so that He said and not in grief either Who had made them and so could know no more of grief than He could of pride or hope: Apparently they can learn nothing save through suffering, remember nothing save when underlined in blood—’ and McCaslin

‘Ashby on an afternoon’s ride, to call on some remote maiden cousins of his mother or maybe just acquaintances of hers, comes by chance upon a minor engagement of outposts and dismounts and with his crimson-lined cloak for target leads a handful of troops he never saw before against an entrenched position of backwoods-trained riflemen. Lee’s battle-order, wrapped maybe about a handful of cigars and doubtless thrown away when the last cigar was smoked, found by a Yankee Intelligence officer on the floor of a saloon behind the Yankee lines after Lee had already divided his forces before Sharpsburg. Jackson on the Plank Road, already rolled up the flank which Hooker believed could not be turned and, waiting only for night to pass to continue the brutal and incessant slogging which would fling that whole wing back into Hooker’s lap where he sat on a front gallery in Chancellorsville drinking rum toddies and telegraphing Lincoln that he had defeated Lee, is shot from among a whole covey of minor officers and in the blind night by one of his own patrols, leaving as next by seniority Stuart that gallant man born apparently already horsed and sabred and already knowing all there was to know about war except the slogging and brutal stupidity of it: and that same Stuart off raiding Pennsylvania hen-roosts when Lee should have known of all of Meade just where Hancock was on Cemetery Ridge: and Longstreet too at Gettysburg and that same Longstreet shot out of saddle by his own men in the dark by mistake just as Jackson was. His face to us? His face to us?’ and he

‘How else have made them fight? Who else but Jacksons and Stuarts and Ashbys and Morgans and Forrests?—the farmers of the central and middle-west, holding land by the acre instead of the tens or maybe even the hundreds, farming it themselves and to no single crop of cotton or tobacco or cane, owning no slaves and needing and wanting none and already looking toward the Pacific coast, not always as long as two generations there and having stopped where they did stop only through the fortuitous mischance that an ox died or a wagon-axle broke. And the New England mechanics who didn’t even own land and measured all things by the weight of water and the cost of turning wheels and the narrow fringe of traders and ship-owners still looking backward across the Atlantic and attached to the continent only by their counting-houses. And those who should have had the alertness to see: the wildcat manipulators of mythical wilderness townsites; and the astuteness to rationalise: the bankers who held the mortgages on the land which the first were only waiting to abandon and on the railroads and steamboats to carry them still further west, and on the factories and the wheels and the rented tenements those who ran them lived in; and the leisure and scope to comprehend and fear in time and even anticipate: the Boston-bred (even when not born in Boston) spinster descendants of long lines of similarly-bred and likewise spinster aunts and uncles whose hands knew no callus except that of the indicting pen, to whom the wilderness itself began at the top of tide and who looked, if at anything other than Beacon Hill, only toward heaven—not to mention all the loud rabble of the camp-followers of pioneers: the bellowing of politicians, the mellifluous choiring of self-styled men of God, the—’ and McCaslin

‘Here, here. Wait a minute:’ and he

‘Let me talk now. I’m trying to explain to the head of my family something which I have got to do which I dont quite understand myself, not in justification of it but to explain it if I can. I could say I dont know why I must do it but that I do know I have got to because I have got myself to have to live with for the rest of my life and all I want is peace to do it in. But you are the head of my family. More. I knew a long time ago that I would never have to miss my father, even if you are just finding out that you have missed your son.—the drawers of bills and the shavers of notes and the schoolmasters and the self-ordained to teach and lead and all that horde of the semi-literate with a white shirt but no change for it, with one eye on themselves and watching each other with the other one. Who else could have made them fight: could have struck them so aghast with fear and dread as to turn shoulder to shoulder and face one way and even stop talking for a while and even after two years of it keep them still so wrung with terror that some among them would seriously propose moving their very capital into a foreign country lest it be ravaged and pillaged by a people whose entire white male population would have little more than filled any one of their larger cities: except Jackson in the Valley and three separate armies trying to catch him and none of them ever knowing whether they were just retreating from a battle or just running into one and Stuart riding his whole command entirely around the biggest single armed force this continent ever saw in order to see what it looked like from behind and Morgan leading a cavalry charge against a stranded man-of-war. Who else could have declared a war against a power with ten times the area and a hundred times the men and a thousand times the resources, except men who could believe that all necessary to conduct a successful war was not acumen nor shrewdness nor politics nor diplomacy nor money nor even integrity and simple arithmetic but just love of land and courage——’

‘And an unblemished and gallant ancestry and the ability to ride a horse,’ McCaslin said. ‘Dont leave that out.’ It was evening now, the tranquil sunset of October mazy with windless woodsmoke. The cotton was long since picked and ginned, and all day now the wagons loaded with gathered corn moved between field and crib, processional across the enduring land. ‘Well, maybe that’s what He wanted. At least, that’s what He got.’ This time there was no yellowed procession of fading and harmless ledger-pages. This was chronicled in a harsher book and McCaslin, fourteen and fifteen and sixteen, had seen it and the boy himself had inherited it as Noah’s grandchildren had inherited the Flood although they had not been there to see the deluge: that dark corrupt and bloody time while three separate peoples had tried to adjust not only to one another but to the new land which they had created and inherited too and must live in for the reason that those who had lost it were no less free to quit it than those who had gained it were:—those upon whom freedom and equality had been dumped overnight and without warning or preparation or any training in how to employ it or even just endure it and who misused it not as children would nor yet because they had been so long in bondage and then so suddenly freed, but misused it as human beings always misuse freedom, so that he thought Apparently there is a wisdom beyond even that learned through suffering necessary for a man to distinguish between liberty and license; those who had fought for four years and lost to preserve a condition under which that franchisement was anomaly and paradox, not because they were opposed to freedom as freedom but for the old reasons for which man (not the generals and politicians but man) has always fought and died in wars: to preserve a status quo or to establish a better future one to endure for his children; and lastly, as if that were not enough for bitterness and hatred and fear, that third race even more alien to the people whom they resembled in pigment and in whom even the same blood ran, than to the people whom they did not,—that race threefold in one and alien even among themselves save for a single fierce will for rapine and pillage, composed of the sons of middleaged Quartermaster lieutenants and Army sutlers and contractors in military blankets and shoes and transport mules, who followed the battles they themselves had not fought and inherited the conquest they themselves had not helped to gain, sanctioned and protected even if not blessed, and left their bones and in another generation would be engaged in a fierce economic competition of small sloven farms with the black men they were supposed to have freed and the white descendants of fathers who had owned no slaves anyway whom they were supposed to have disinherited and in the third generation would be back once more in the little lost county seats as barbers and garage mechanics and deputy sheriffs and mill- and gin-hands and power-plant firemen, leading, first in mufti then later in an actual formalised regalia of hooded sheets and passwords and fiery christian symbols, lynching mobs against the race their ancestors had come to save: and of all that other nameless horde of speculators in human misery, manipulators of money and politics and land, who follow catastrophe and are their own protection as grasshoppers are and need no blessing and sweat no plow or axe-helve and batten and vanish and leave no bones, just as they derived apparently from no ancestry, no mortal flesh, no act even of passion or even of lust: and the Jew who came without protection too since after two thousand years he had got out of the habit of being or needing it, and solitary, without even the solidarity of the locusts and in this a sort of courage since he had come thinking not in terms of simple pillage but in terms of his great-grandchildren, seeking yet some place to establish them to endure even though forever alien: and unblessed: a pariah about the face of the Western earth which twenty centuries later was still taking revenge on him for the fairy tale with which he had conquered it. McCaslin had actually seen it, and the boy even at almost eighty would never be able to distinguish certainly between what he had seen and what had been told him: a lightless and gutted and empty land where women crouched with the huddled children behind locked doors and men armed in sheets and masks rode the silent roads and the bodies of white and black both, victims not so much of hate as of desperation and despair, swung from lonely limbs: and men shot dead in polling-booths with the still wet pen in one hand and the unblotted ballot in the other: and a United States marshal in Jefferson who signed his official papers with a crude cross, an ex-slave called Sickymo, not at all because his ex-owner was a doctor and apothecary but because, still a slave, he would steal his master’s grain alcohol and dilute it with water and peddle it in pint bottles from a cache beneath the roots of a big sycamore tree behind the drug store, who had attained his high office because his half-white sister was the concubine of the Federal A.P.M.: and this time McCaslin did not even say Look but merely lifted one hand, not even pointing, not even specifically toward the shelf of ledgers but toward the desk, toward the corner where it sat beside the scuffed patch on the floor where two decades of heavy shoes had stood while the white man at the desk added and multiplied and subtracted. And again he did not need to look because he had seen this himself and, twenty-three years after the Surrender and twenty-four after the Proclamation, was still watching it: the ledgers, new ones now and filled rapidly, succeeding one another rapidly and containing more names than old Carothers or even his father and Uncle Buddy had ever dreamed of; new names and new faces to go with them, among which the old names and faces that even his father and uncle would have recognised, were lost, vanished—Tomey’s Terrel dead, and even the tragic and miscast Percival Brownlee, who couldn’t keep books and couldn’t farm either, found his true niche at last, reappeared in 1862 during the boy’s father’s absence and had apparently been living on the plantation for at least a month before his uncle found out about it, conducting impromptu revival meetings among Negroes, preaching and leading the singing also in his high sweet true soprano voice and disappeared again on foot and at top speed, not behind but ahead of a body of raiding Federal horse and reappeared for the third and last time in the entourage of a travelling Army paymaster, the two of them passing through Jefferson in a surrey at the exact moment when the boy’s father (it was 1866) also happened to be crossing the Square, the surrey and its occupants traversing rapidly that quiet and bucolic scene and even in that fleeting moment and to others beside the boy’s father giving an illusion of flight and illicit holiday like a man on an excursion during his wife’s absence with his wife’s personal maid, until Brownlee glanced up and saw his late co-master and gave him one defiant female glance and then broke again, leaped from the surrey and disappeared this time for good and it was only by chance that McCaslin, twenty years later, heard of him again, an old man now and quite fat, as the well-to-do proprietor of a select New Orleans brothel; and Tennie’s Jim gone, nobody knew where, and Fonsiba in Arkansas with her three dollars each month and the scholar-husband with his lensless spectacles and frock coat and his plans for the spring; and only Lucas was left, the baby, the last save himself of old Carothers’ doomed and fatal blood which in the male derivation seemed to destroy all it touched, and even he was repudiating and at least hoping to escape it;—Lucas, the boy of fourteen whose name would not even appear for six years yet among those rapid pages in the bindings new and dustless too since McCaslin lifted them down daily now to write into them the continuation of that record which two hundred years had not been enough to complete and another hundred would not be enough to discharge; that chronicle which was a whole land in miniature, which multiplied and compounded was the entire South, twenty-three years after surrender and twenty-four from emancipation—that slow trickle of molasses and meal and meat, of shoes and straw hats and overalls, of plowlines and collars and heel-bolts and buckheads and clevises, which returned each fall as cotton—the two threads frail as truth and impalpable as equators yet cable-strong to bind for life them who made the cotton to the land their sweat fell on: and he

‘Yes. Binding them for a while yet, a little while yet. Through and beyond that life and maybe through and beyond the life of that life’s sons and maybe even through and beyond that of the sons of those sons. But not always, because they will endure. They will outlast us because they are—’ it was not a pause, barely a falter even, possibly appreciable only to himself, as if he couldn’t speak even to McCaslin, even to explain his repudiation, that which to him too, even in the act of escaping (and maybe this was the reality and the truth of his need to escape) was heresy: so that even in escaping he was taking with him more of that evil and unregenerate old man who could summon, because she was his property, a human being because she was old enough and female, to his widower’s house and get a child on her and then dismiss her because she was of an inferior race, and then bequeath a thousand dollars to the infant because he would be dead then and wouldn’t have to pay it, than even he had feared. ‘Yes. He didn’t want to. He had to. Because they will endure. They are better than we are. Stronger than we are. Their vices are vices aped from white men or that white men and bondage have taught them: improvidence and intemperance and evasion—not laziness: evasion: of what white men had set them to, not for their aggrandisement or even comfort but his own—’ and McCaslin

‘All right. Go on: Promiscuity. Violence. Instability and lack of control. Inability to distinguish between mine and thine—’ and he

‘How distinguish, when for two hundred years mine did not even exist for them?’ and McCaslin

‘All right. Go on. And their virtues—’ and he

‘Yes. Their own. Endurance—’ and McCaslin

‘So have mules:’ and he

‘—and pity and tolerance and forbearance and fidelity and love of children—’ and McCaslin

‘So have dogs:’ and he

‘—whether their own or not or black or not. And more: what they got not only not from white people but not even despite white people because they had it already from the old free fathers a longer time free than us because we have never been free—’ and it was in McCaslin’s eyes too, he had only to look at McCaslin’s eyes and it was there, that summer twilight seven years ago, almost a week after they had returned from the camp before he discovered that Sam Fathers had told McCaslin: an old bear, fierce and ruthless not just to stay alive but ruthless with the fierce pride of liberty and freedom, jealous and proud enough of liberty and freedom to see it threatened not with fear nor even alarm but almost with joy, seeming deliberately to put it into jeopardy in order to savor it and keep his old strong bones and flesh supple and quick to defend and preserve it; an old man, son of a Negro slave and an Indian king, inheritor on the one hand of the long chronicle of a people who had learned humility through suffering and learned pride through the endurance which survived the suffering, and on the other side the chronicle of a people even longer in the land than the first, yet who now existed there only in the solitary brotherhood of an old and childless Negro’s alien blood and the wild and invincible spirit of an old bear; a boy who wished to learn humility and pride in order to become skillful and worthy in the woods but found himself becoming so skillful so fast that he feared he would never become worthy because he had not learned humility and pride though he had tried, until one day an old man who could not have defined either led him as though by the hand to where an old bear and a little mongrel dog showed him that, by possessing one thing other, he would possess them both; and a little dog, nameless and mongrel and many-fathered, grown yet weighing less than six pounds, who couldn’t be dangerous because there was nothing anywhere much smaller, not fierce because that would have been called just noise, not humble because it was already too near the ground to genuflect, and not proud because it would not have been close enough for anyone to discern what was casting that shadow and which didn’t even know it was not going to heaven since they had already decided it had no immortal soul, so that all it could be was brave even though they would probably call that too just noise. ‘And you didn’t shoot,’ McCaslin said. ‘How close were you?

‘I dont know,’ he said. ‘There was a big wood tick just inside his off hind leg. I saw that. But I didn’t have the gun then.’

‘But you didn’t shoot when you had the gun,’ McCaslin said. ‘Why?’ But McCaslin didn’t wait, rising and crossing the room, across the pelt of the bear he had killed two years ago and the bigger one McCaslin had killed before he was born, to the bookcase beneath the mounted head of his first buck, and returned with the book and sat down again and opened it. ‘Listen,’ he said. He read the five stanzas aloud and closed the book on his finger and looked up. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Listen,’ and read again, but only one stanza this time and closed the book and laid it on the table. ‘She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,’ McCaslin said: ‘Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair.’

‘He’s talking about a girl,’ he said.

‘He had to talk about something,’ McCaslin said. Then he said, ‘He was talking about truth. Truth is one. It doesn’t change. It covers all things which touch the heart—honor and pride and pity and justice and courage and love. Do you see now? He didn’t know. Somehow it had seemed simpler than that, simpler than somebody talking in a book about a young man and a girl he would never need to grieve over because he could never approach any nearer and would never have to get any further away. He had heard about an old bear and finally got big enough to hunt it and he hunted it four years and at last met it with a gun in his hands and he didn’t shoot. Because a little dog—But he could have shot long before the fyce covered the twenty yards to where the bear waited, and Sam Fathers could have shot at any time during the interminable minute while Old Ben stood on his hind legs over them. . . . He ceased. McCaslin watched him, still speaking, the voice, the words as quiet as the twilight itself was: ‘Courage and honor and pride, and pity and love of justice and of liberty. They all touch the heart, and what the heart holds to becomes truth, as far as we know truth. Do you see now?’ and he could still hear them, intact in this twilight as in that one seven years ago, no louder still because they did not need to be because they would endure: and he had only to look at McCaslin’s eyes beyond the thin and bitter smiling, the faint lip-lift which would have had to be called smiling;—his kinsman, his father almost, who had been born too late into the old time and too soon for the new, the two of them juxtaposed and alien now to each other against their ravaged patrimony, the dark and ravaged fatherland still prone and panting from its etherless operation:

‘Habet then.—So this land is, indubitably, of and by itself cursed:’ and he

‘Cursed:’ and again McCaslin merely lifted one hand, not even speaking and not even toward the ledgers: so that, as the stereopticon condenses into one instantaneous field the myriad minutia of its scope, so did that slight and rapid gesture establish in the small cramped and cluttered twilit room not only the ledgers but the whole plantation in its mazed and intricate entirety—the land, the fields and what they represented in terms of cotton ginned and sold, the men and women whom they fed and clothed and even paid a little cash money at Christmas-time in return for the labor which planted and raised and picked and ginned the cotton, the machinery and mules and gear with which they raised it and their cost and upkeep and replacement—that whole edifice intricate and complex and founded upon injustice and erected by ruthless rapacity and carried on even yet with at times downright savagery not only to the human beings but the valuable animals too, yet solvent and efficient and, more than that: not only still intact but enlarged, increased; brought still intact by McCaslin, himself little more than a child then, through and out of the debacle and chaos of twenty years ago where hardly one in ten survived, and enlarged and increased and would continue so, solvent and efficient and intact and still increasing so long as McCaslin and his McCaslin successors lasted, even though their surnames might not even be Edmonds then: and he: ‘Habet too. Because that’s it: not the land, but us. Not only the blood, but the name too; not only its color but its designation: Edmonds, white, but, a female line, could have no other but the name his father bore; Beauchamp, the elder line and the male one, but, black, could have had any name he liked and no man would have cared, except the name his father bore who had no name—’ and McCaslin

‘And since I know too what you know I will say now, once more let me say it: And one other, and in the third generation too, and the male, the eldest, the direct and sole and white and still McCaslin even, father to son to son—’ and he

‘I am free:’ and this time McCaslin did not even gesture, no inference of fading pages, no postulation of the stereoptic whole, but the frail and iron thread strong as truth and impervious as evil and longer than life itself and reaching beyond record and patrimony both to join him with the lusts and passions, the hopes and dreams and griefs, of bones whose names while still fleshed and capable even old Carothers’ grandfather had never heard: and he: ‘And of that too:’ and McCaslin

‘Chosen, I suppose (I will concede it) out of all your time by Him as you say Buck and Buddy were from theirs. And it took Him a bear and an old man and four years just for you. And it took you fourteen years to reach that point and about that many, maybe more, for Old Ben, and more than seventy for Sam Fathers. And you are just one. How long then? How long?’ and he

‘It will be long. I have never said otherwise. But it will be all right because they will endure—’ and McCaslin

‘And anyway, you will be free.—No, not now nor ever, we from them nor they from us. So I repudiate too. I would deny even if I knew it were true. I would have to. Even you can see that I could do no else. I am what I am; I will be always what I was born and have always been. And more than me. More than me, just as there were more than Buck and Buddy in what you called His first plan which failed:’ and he

‘And more than me:’ and McCaslin

‘No. Not even you. Because mark. You said how on that instant when Ikkemotubbe realised that he could sell the land to Grandfather, it ceased forever to have been his. All right; go on: Then it belonged to Sam Fathers, old Ikkemotubbe’s son. And who inherited from Sam Fathers, if not you? co-heir perhaps with Boon, if not of his life maybe, at least of his quitting it?’ and he

‘Yes. Sam Fathers set me free.’ And Isaac McCaslin, not yet Uncle Ike, a long time yet before he would be uncle to half a county and still father to none, living in one small cramped fireless rented room in a Jefferson boardinghouse where petit juries were domiciled during court terms and itinerant horse- and mule-traders stayed, with his kit of brand-new carpenter’s tools and the shotgun McCaslin had given him with his name engraved in silver and old General Compson’s compass (and, when the General died, his silver-mounted horn too) and the iron cot and mattress and the blankets which he would take each fall into the woods for more than sixty years and the bright tin coffee-pot

there had been a legacy, from his Uncle Hubert Beauchamp, his godfather, that bluff burly roaring childlike man from whom Uncle Buddy had won Tomey’s Terrel’s wife Tennie in the poker-game in 1859—‘posible strait against three Treys in sigt Not called’—; no pale sentence or paragraph scrawled in cringing fear of death by a weak and trembling hand as a last desperate sop flung backward at retribution, but a Legacy, a Thing, possessing weight to the hand and bulk to the eye and even audible: a silver cup filled with gold pieces and wrapped in burlap and sealed with his godfather’s ring in the hot wax, which (intact still) even before his Uncle Hubert’s death and long before his own majority, when it would be his, had become not only a legend but one of the family lares. After his father’s and his Uncle Hubert’s sister’s marriage they moved back into the big house, the tremendous cavern which old Carothers had started and never finished, cleared the remaining Negroes out of it and with his mother’s dowry completed it, at least the rest of the windows and doors and moved into it, all of them save Uncle Buddy who declined to leave the cabin he and his twin had built, the move being the bride’s notion and more than just a notion and none ever to know if she really wanted to live in the big house or if she knew before hand that Uncle Buddy would refuse to move: and two weeks after his birth in 1867, the first time he and his mother came down stairs, one night and the silver cup sitting on the cleared dining-room table beneath the bright lamp and while his mother and his father and McCaslin and Tennie (his nurse: carrying him)—all of them again but Uncle Buddy—watched, his Uncle Hubert rang one by one into the cup the bright and glinting mintage and wrapped it into the burlap envelope and heated the wax and sealed it and carried it back home with him where he lived alone now without even his sister either to hold him down as McCaslin said or to try to raise him up as Uncle Buddy said, and (dark times then in Mississippi) Uncle Buddy said most of the niggers gone and the ones that didn’t go even Hub Beauchamp could not have wanted: but the dogs remained and Uncle Buddy said Beauchamp fiddled while Nero fox-hunted

they would go and see it there; at last his mother would prevail and they would depart in the surrey, once more all save Uncle Buddy and McCaslin to keep Uncle Buddy company until one winter Uncle Buddy began to fail and from then on it was himself, beginning to remember now, and his mother and Tennie and Tomey’s Terrel to drive: the twenty-two miles into the next county, the twin gateposts on one of which McCaslin could remember the halfgrown boy blowing a fox-horn at breakfast dinner and supper-time and jumping down to open to any passer who happened to hear it but where there were no gates at all now, the shabby and overgrown entrance to what his mother still insisted that people call Warwick because her brother was if truth but triumphed and justice but prevailed the rightful earl of it, the paintless house which outwardly did not change but which on the inside seemed each time larger because he was too little to realise then that there was less and less in it of the fine furnishings, the rosewood and mahogany and walnut which for him had never existed anywhere anyway save in his mother’s tearful lamentations and the occasional piece small enough to be roped somehow onto the rear or the top of the carriage on their return (And he remembered this, he had seen it: an instant, a flash, his mother’s soprano ‘Even my dress! Even my dress!’ loud and outraged in the barren unswept hall; a face young and female and even lighter in color than Tomey’s Terrel’s for an instant in a closing door; a swirl, a glimpse of the silk gown and the flick and glint of an ear-ring: an apparition rapid and tawdry and illicit yet somehow even to the child, the infant still almost, breathless and exciting and evocative: as though, like two limpid and pellucid streams meeting, the child which he still was had made serene and absolute and perfect rapport and contact through that glimpsed nameless illicit hybrid female flesh with the boy which had existed at that stage of inviolable and immortal adolescence in his uncle for almost sixty years; the dress, the face, the ear-rings gone in that same aghast flash and his uncle’s voice: ‘She’s my cook! She’s my new cook! I had to have a cook, didn’t I?’ then the uncle himself, the face alarmed and aghast too yet still innocently and somehow even indomitably of a boy, they retreating in their turn now, back to the front gallery, and his uncle again, pained and still amazed, in a sort of desperate resurgence if not of courage at least of self-assertion: ‘They’re free now! They’re folks too just like we are!’ and his mother: ‘That’s why! That’s why! My mother’s house! Defiled! Defiled!’ and his uncle: ‘Damn it, Sibbey, at least give her time to pack her grip:’ then over, finished, the loud uproar and all, himself and Tennie and he remembered Tennie’s inscrutable face at the broken shutterless window of the bare room which had once been the parlor while they watched, hurrying down the lane at a stumbling trot, the routed compounder of his uncle’s uxory: the back, the nameless face which he had seen only for a moment, the once-hooped dress ballooning and flapping below a man’s overcoat, the worn heavy carpet-bag jouncing and banging against her knee, routed and in retreat true enough and in the empty lane solitary young-looking and forlorn yet withal still exciting and evocative and wearing still the silken banner captured inside the very citadel of respectability, and unforgettable.)

the cup, the sealed inscrutable burlap, sitting on the shelf in the locked closet, Uncle Hubert unlocking the door and lifting it down and passing it from hand to hand: his mother, his father, McCaslin and even Tennie, insisting that each take it in turn and heft it for weight and shake it again to prove the sound, Uncle Hubert himself standing spraddled before the cold unswept hearth in which the very bricks themselves were crumbling into a litter of soot and dust and mortar and the droppings of chimney-sweeps, still roaring and still innocent and still indomitable: and for a long time he believed nobody but himself had noticed that his uncle now put the cup only into his hands, unlocked the door and lifted it down and put it into his hands and stood over him until he had shaken it obediently until it sounded then took it from him and locked it back into the closet before anyone else could have offered to touch it, and even later, when competent not only to remember but to rationalise, he could not say what it was or even if it had been anything because the parcel was still heavy and still rattled, not even when, Uncle Buddy dead and his father, at last and after almost seventy-five years in bed after the sun rose, said: ‘Go get that damn cup. Bring that damn Hub Beauchamp too if you have to:’ because it still rattled though his uncle no longer put it even into his hands now but carried it himself from one to the other, his mother, McCaslin, Tennie, shaking it before each in turn, saying: ‘Hear it? Hear it?’ his face still innocent, not quite baffled but only amazed and not very amazed and still indomitable: and, his father and Uncle Buddy both gone now, one day without reason or any warning the almost completely empty house in which his uncle and Tennie’s ancient and quarrelsome great-grandfather (who claimed to have seen Lafayette and McCaslin said in another ten years would be remembering God) lived, cooked and slept in one single room, burst into peaceful conflagration, a tranquil instantaneous sourceless unanimity of combustion, walls floors and roof: at sunup it stood where his uncle’s father had built it sixty years ago, at sundown the four blackened and smokeless chimneys rose from a light white powder of ashes and a few charred ends of planks which did not even appear to have been very hot: and out of the last of evening, the last one of the twenty-two miles, on the old white mare which was the last of that stable which McCaslin remembered, the two old men riding double up to the sister’s door, the one wearing his fox-horn on its braided deerhide thong and the other carrying the burlap parcel wrapped in a shirt, the tawny wax-daubed shapeless lump sitting again and on an almost identical shelf and his uncle holding the half-opened door now, his hand not only on the knob but one foot against it and the key waiting in the other hand, the face urgent and still not baffled but still and even indomitably not very amazed and himself standing in the half-opened door looking quietly up at the burlap shape become almost three times its original height and a good half less than its original thickness and turning away and he would remember not his mother’s look this time nor yet Tennie’s inscrutable expression but McCaslin’s dark and aquiline face grave insufferable and bemused: then one night they waked him and fetched him still half-asleep into the lamp light, the smell of medicine which was familiar by now in that room and the smell of something else which he had not smelled before and knew at once and would never forget, the pillow, the worn and ravaged face from which looked out still the boy innocent and immortal and amazed and urgent, looking at him and trying to tell him until McCaslin moved and leaned over the bed and drew from the top of the nightshirt the big iron key on the greasy cord which suspended it, the eyes saying Yes Yes Yes now, and cut the cord and unlocked the closet and brought the parcel to the bed, the eyes still trying to tell him even when he took the parcel so that was still not it, the hands still clinging to the parcel even while relinquishing it, the eyes more urgent than ever trying to tell him but they never did; and he was ten and his mother was dead too and McCaslin said, ‘You are almost halfway now. You might as well open it:’ and he: ‘No. He said twenty-one:’ and he was twenty-one and McCaslin shifted the bright lamp to the center of the cleared dining-room table and set the parcel beside it and laid his open knife beside the parcel and stood back with that expression of old grave intolerant and repudiating and he lifted it, the burlap lump which fifteen years ago had changed its shape completely overnight, which shaken gave forth a thin weightless not-quite-musical curiously muffled clatter, the bright knife-blade hunting amid the mazed intricacy of string, the knobby gouts of wax bearing his uncle’s Beauchamp seal rattling onto the table’s polished top and, standing amid the collapse of burlap folds, the unstained tin coffee-pot still brand new, the handful of copper coins and now he knew what had given them the muffled sound: a collection of minutely-folded scraps of paper sufficient almost for a rat’s nest, of good linen bond, of the crude ruled paper such as Negroes use, of raggedly-torn ledger-pages and the margins of newspapers and once the paper label from a new pair of overalls, all dated and all signed, beginning with the first one not six months after they had watched him seal the silver cup into the burlap on this same table in this same room by the light even of this same lamp almost twenty-one years ago:

I owe my Nephew Isaac Beauchamp McCaslin five (5) pieces Gold which I.O.U. constitutes My note of hand with Interest at 5 percent.

Hubert Fitz-Hubert Beauchamp

at Warwick 27 Nov 1867

and he: ‘Anyway he called it Warwick:’ once at least, even if no more. But there was more:

Isaac 24 Dec 1867 I.O.U. 2 pieces Gold H.Fh.B. I.O.U. Isaac 1 piece Gold 1 Jan 1868 H.Fh.B.

then five again then three then one then one then a long time and what dream, what dreamed splendid recoup, not of any injury or betrayal of trust because it had been merely a loan: nay, a partnership:

I.O.U. Beauchamp McCaslin or his heirs twenty-five (25) pieces Gold This & All preceeding constituting My notes of hand at twenty (20) percentum compounded annually. This date of 19th January 1873


no location save that in time and signed by the single not name but word as the old proud earl himself might have scrawled Nevile: and that made forty-three and he could not remember himself of course but the legend had it at fifty, which balanced: one: then one: then one: then one and then the last three and then the last chit, dated after he came to live in the house with them and written in the shaky hand not of a beaten old man because he had never been beaten to know it but of a tired old man maybe and even at that tired only on the outside and still indomitable, the simplicity of the last one the simplicity not of resignation but merely of amazement, like a simple comment or remark, and not very much of that:

One silver cup. Hubert Beauchamp

and McCaslin: ‘So you have plenty of coppers anyway. But they are still not old enough yet to be either rarities or heirlooms. So you will have to take the money:’ except that he didn’t hear McCaslin, standing quietly beside the table and looking peacefully at the coffee-pot and the pot sitting one night later on the mantel above what was not even a fireplace in the little cramped icelike room in Jefferson as McCaslin tossed the folded banknotes onto the bed and, still standing (there was nowhere to sit save on the bed) did not even remove his hat and overcoat: and he

‘As a loan. From you. This one:’ and McCaslin

‘You cant. I have no money that I can lend to you. And you will have to go to the bank and get it next month because I wont bring it to you:’ and he could not hear McCaslin now either, looking peacefully at McCaslin, his kinsman, his father almost yet no kin now as, at the last, even fathers and sons are no kin: and he

‘It’s seventeen miles, horseback and in the cold. We could both sleep here:’ and McCaslin

‘Why should I sleep here in my house when you wont sleep yonder in yours?’ and gone, and he looking at the bright rustless unstained tin and thinking and not for the first time how much it takes to compound a man (Isaac McCaslin for instance) and of the devious intricate choosing yet unerring path that man’s (Isaac McCaslin’s for instance) spirit takes among all that mass to make him at last what he is to be, not only to the astonishment of them (the ones who sired the McCaslin who sired his father and Uncle Buddy and their sister, and the ones who sired the Beauchamp who sired his Uncle Hubert and his Uncle Hubert’s sister) who believed they had shaped him, but to Isaac McCaslin too

as a loan and used it though he would not have had to: Major de Spain offered him a room in his house as long as he wanted it and asked nor would ever ask any question, and old General Compson more than that, to take him into his own room, to sleep in half of his own bed and more than Major de Spain because he told him baldly why: ‘You sleep with me and before this winter is out, I’ll know the reason. You’ll tell me. Because I dont believe you just quit. It looks like you just quit but I have watched you in the woods too much and I dont believe you just quit even if it does look damn like it:’ using it as a loan, paid his board and rent for a month and bought the tools, not simply because he was good with his hands because he had intended to use his hands and it could have been with horses, and not in mere static and hopeful emulation of the Nazarene as the young gambler buys a spotted shirt because the old gambler won in one yesterday, but (without the arrogance of false humility and without the false humbleness of pride, who intended to earn his bread, didn’t especially want to earn it but had to earn it and for more than just bread) because if the Nazarene had found carpentering good for the life and ends He had assumed and elected to serve, it would be all right too for Isaac McCaslin even though Isaac McCaslin’s ends, although simple enough in their apparent motivation, were and would be always incomprehensible to him, and his life, invincible enough in its needs, if he could have helped himself, not being the Nazarene, he would not have chosen it: and paid it back. He had forgotten the thirty dollars which McCaslin would put into the bank in his name each month, fetched it in to him and flung it onto the bed that first one time but no more; he had a partner now or rather he was the partner: a blasphemous profane clever old dipsomaniac who had built blockade-runners in Charleston in ’62 and ’3 and had been a ship’s carpenter since and appeared in Jefferson two years ago nobody knew from where nor why and spent a good part of his time since recovering from delirium tremens in the jail; they had put a new roof on the stable of the bank’s president and (the old man in jail again still celebrating that job) he went to the bank to collect for it and the president said, ‘I should borrow from you instead of paying you:’ and it had been seven months now and he remembered for the first time, two-hundred-and-ten dollars, and this was the first job of any size and when he left the bank the account stood at two-twenty, two-forty to balance, only twenty dollars more to go, then it did balance though by then the total had increased to three hundred and thirty and he said, ‘I will transfer it now:’ and the president said, ‘I cant do that. McCaslin told me not to. Haven’t you got another initial you could use and open another account?’ but that was all right, the coins the silver and the bills as they accumulated knotted into a handkerchief and the coffee-pot wrapped in an old shirt as when Tennie’s great-grandfather had fetched it from Warwick eighteen years ago, in the bottom of the iron-bound trunk which old Carothers had brought from Carolina and his landlady said, ‘Not even a lock! And you dont even lock your door, not even when you leave!’ and himself looking at her as peacefully as he had looked at McCaslin that first night in this same room, no kin to him at all yet more than kin as those who serve you even for pay are your kin and those who injure you are more than brother or wife

and had the wife now, got the old man out of jail and fetched him to the rented room and sobered him by superior strength, did not even remove his own shoes for twenty-four hours, got him up and got food into him and they built the barn this time from the ground up and he married her: an only child, a small girl yet curiously bigger than she seemed at first, solider perhaps, with dark eyes and a passionate heart-shaped face, who had time even on that farm to watch most of the day while he sawed timbers to the old man’s measurements: and she: ‘Papa told me about you. That farm is really yours, isn’t it?’ and he

‘And McCaslin’s:’ and she

‘Was there a will leaving half of it to him?’ and he

‘There didn’t need to be a will. His grandmother was my father’s sister. We were the same as brothers:’ and she

‘You are the same as second cousins and that’s all you ever will be. But I dont suppose it matters:’ and they were married, they were married and it was the new country, his heritage too as it was the heritage of all, out of the earth, beyond the earth yet of the earth because his too was of the earth’s long chronicle, his too because each must share with another in order to come into it and in the sharing they become one: for that while, one: for that little while at least, one: indivisible, that while at least irrevocable and unrecoverable, living in a rented room still but for just a little while and that room wall-less and topless and floorless in glory for him to leave each morning and return to at night; her father already owned the lot in town and furnished the material and he and his partner would build it, her dowry from one: her wedding-present from three, she not to know it until the bungalow was finished and ready to be moved into and he never know who told her, not her father and not his partner and not even in drink though for a while he believed that, himself coming home from work and just time to wash and rest a moment before going down to supper, entering no rented cubicle since it would still partake of glory even after they would have grown old and lost it: and he saw her face then, just before she spoke: ‘Sit down:’ the two of them sitting on the bed’s edge, not even touching yet, her face strained and terrible, her voice a passionate and expiring whisper of immeasurable promise: ‘I love you. You know I love you. When are we going to move?’ and he

‘I didn’t—I didn’t know—Who told you—’ the hot fierce palm clapped over his mouth, crushing his lips into his teeth, the fierce curve of fingers digging into his cheek and only the palm slacked off enough for him to answer:

‘The farm. Our farm. Your farm:’ and he

‘I—’ then the hand again, finger and palm, the whole enveloping weight of her although she still was not touching him save the hand, the voice: ‘No! No!’ and the fingers themselves seeming to follow through the cheek the impulse to speech as it died in his mouth, then the whisper, the breath again, of love and of incredible promise, the palm slackening again to let him answer:

‘When?’ and he

‘I—’ then she was gone, the hand too, standing, her back to him and her head bent, the voice so calm now that for an instant it seemed no voice of hers that he ever remembered: ‘Stand up and turn your back and shut your eyes:’ and repeated before he understood and stood himself with his eyes shut and heard the bell ring for supper below stairs and the calm voice again: ‘Lock the door:’ and he did so and leaned his forehead against the cold wood, his eyes closed, hearing his heart and the sound he had begun to hear before he moved until it ceased and the bell rang again below stairs and he knew it was for them this time and he heard the bed and turned and he had never seen her naked before, he had asked her to once, and why: that he wanted to see her naked because he loved her and he wanted to see her looking at him naked because he loved her but after that he never mentioned it again, even turning his face when she put the nightgown on over her dress to undress at night and putting the dress on over the gown to remove it in the morning and she would not let him get into bed beside her until the lamp was out and even in the heat of summer she would draw the sheet up over them both before she would let him turn to her: and the landlady came up the stairs up the hall and rapped on the door and then called their names but she didn’t move, lying still on the bed outside the covers, her face turned away on the pillow, listening to nothing, thinking of nothing, not of him anyway he thought then the landlady went away and she said, ‘Take off your clothes:’ her head still turned away, looking at nothing, thinking of nothing, waiting for nothing, not even him, her hand moving as though with volition and vision of its own, catching his wrist at the exact moment when he paused beside the bed so that he never paused but merely changed the direction of moving, downward now, the hand drawing him and she moved at last, shifted, a movement one single complete inherent not practiced and one time older than man, looking at him now, drawing him still downward with the one hand down and down and he neither saw nor felt it shift, palm flat against his chest now and holding him away with the same apparent lack of any effort or any need for strength, and not looking at him now, she didn’t need to, the chaste woman, the wife, already looked upon all the men who ever rutted and now her whole body had changed, altered, he had never seen it but once and now it was not even the one he had seen but composite of all woman-flesh since man that ever of its own will reclined on its back and opened, and out of it somewhere, without any movement of lips even, the dying and invincible whisper: ‘Promise:’ and he


‘The farm.’ He moved. He had moved, the hand shifting from his chest once more to his wrist, grasping it, the arm still lax and only the light increasing pressure of the fingers as though arm and hand were a piece of wire cable with one looped end, only the hand tightening as he pulled against it. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No:’ and she was not looking at him still but not like the other but still the hand: ‘No, I tell you. I wont. I cant. Never:’ and still the hand and he said, for the last time, he tried to speak clearly and he knew it was still gently and he thought, She already knows more than I with all the man-listening in camps where there was nothing to read ever even heard of. They are born already bored with what a boy approaches only at fourteen and fifteen with blundering and aghast trembling: ‘I cant. Not ever. Remember:’ and still the steady and invincible hand and he said Yes and he thought, She is lost. She was born lost. We were all born lost then he stopped thinking and even saying Yes, it was like nothing he had ever dreamed, let alone heard in mere man-talking until after a no-time he returned and lay spent on the insatiate immemorial beach and again with a movement one time more older than man she turned and freed herself and on their wedding night she had cried and he thought she was crying now at first, into the tossed and wadded pillow, the voice coming from somewhere between the pillow and the cachinnation: ‘And that’s all. That’s all from me. If this dont get you that son you talk about, it wont be mine:’ lying on her side, her back to the empty rented room, laughing and laughing


He went back to the camp one more time before the lumber company moved in and began to cut the timber. Major de Spain himself never saw it again. But he made them welcome to use the house and hunt the land whenever they liked, and in the winter following the last hunt when Sam Fathers and Lion died, General Compson and Walter Ewell invented a plan to corporate themselves, the old group, into a club and lease the camp and the hunting privileges of the woods—an invention doubtless of the somewhat childish old General but actually worthy of Boon Hogganbeck himself. Even the boy, listening, recognised it for the subterfuge it was: to change the leopard’s spots when they could not alter the leopard, a baseless and illusory hope to which even McCaslin seemed to subscribe for a while, that once they had persuaded Major de Spain to return to the camp he might revoke himself, which even the boy knew he would not do. And he did not. The boy never knew what occurred when Major de Spain declined. He was not present when the subject was broached and McCaslin never told him. But when June came and the time for the double birthday celebration there was no mention of it and when November came no one spoke of using Major de Spain’s house and he never knew whether or not Major de Spain knew they were going on the hunt though without doubt old Ash probably told him: he and McCaslin and General Compson (and that one was the General’s last hunt too) and Walter and Boon and Tennie’s Jim and old Ash loaded two wagons and drove two days and almost forty miles beyond any country the boy had ever seen before and lived in tents for the two weeks. And the next spring they heard (not from Major de Spain) that he had sold the timber-rights to a Memphis lumber company and in June the boy came to town with McCaslin one Saturday and went to Major de Spain’s office—the big, airy, book-lined second-storey room with windows at one end opening upon the shabby hinder purlieus of stores and at the other a door giving onto the railed balcony above the Square, with its curtained alcove where sat a cedar water-bucket and a sugar-bowl and spoon and tumbler and a wicker-covered demijohn of whisky, and the bamboo-and-paper punkah swinging back and forth above the desk while old Ash in a tilted chair beside the entrance pulled the cord.

“Of course,” Major de Spain said. “Ash will probably like to get off in the woods himself for a while, where he wont have to eat Daisy’s cooking. Complain about it, anyway. Are you going to take anybody with you?”

“No sir,” he said. “I thought that maybe Boon—” For six months now Boon had been town-marshal at Hoke’s; Major de Spain had compounded with the lumber company—or perhaps compromised was closer, since it was the lumber company who had decided that Boon might be better as a town-marshal than head of a logging gang.

“Yes,” Major de Spain said. “I’ll wire him today. He can meet you at Hoke’s. I’ll send Ash on by the train and they can take some food in and all you will have to do will be to mount your horse and ride over.”

“Yes sir,” he said. “Thank you.” And he heard his voice again. He didn’t know he was going to say it yet he did know, he had known it all the time: “Maybe if you . . .” His voice died. It was stopped, he never knew how because Major de Spain did not speak and it was not until his voice ceased that Major de Spain moved, turned back to the desk and the papers spread on it and even that without moving because he was sitting at the desk with a paper in his hand when the boy entered, the boy standing there looking down at the short plumpish gray-haired man in sober fine broadcloth and an immaculate glazed shirt whom he was used to seeing in boots and muddy corduroy, unshaven, sitting the shaggy powerful long-hocked mare with the worn Winchester carbine across the saddle-bow and the great blue dog standing motionless as bronze at the stirrup, the two of them in that last year and to the boy anyway coming to resemble one another somehow as two people competent for love or for business who have been in love or in business together for a long time sometimes do. Major de Spain did not look up again.

“No. I will be too busy. But good luck to you. If you have it, you might bring me a young squirrel.”

“Yes sir,” he said. “I will.”

He rode his mare, the three-year-old filly he had bred and raised and broken himself. He left home a little after midnight and six hours later, without even having sweated her, he rode into Hoke’s, the tiny log-line junction which he had always thought of as Major de Spain’s property too although Major de Spain had merely sold the company (and that many years ago) the land on which the sidetracks and loading-platforms and the commissary store stood, and looked about in shocked and grieved amazement even though he had had forewarning and had believed himself prepared: a new planing-mill already half completed which would cover two or three acres and what looked like miles and miles of stacked steel rails red with the light bright rust of newness and of piled crossties sharp with creosote, and wire corrals and feeding-troughs for two hundred mules at least and the tents for the men who drove them; so that he arranged for the care and stabling of his mare as rapidly as he could and did not look any more, mounted into the log-train caboose with his gun and climbed into the cupola and looked no more save toward the wall of wilderness ahead within which he would be able to hide himself from it once more anyway.

Then the little locomotive shrieked and began to move: a rapid churning of exhaust, a lethargic deliberate clashing of slack couplings traveling backward along the train, the exhaust changing to the deep slow clapping bites of power as the caboose too began to move and from the cupola he watched the train’s head complete the first and only curve in the entire line’s length and vanish into the wilderness, dragging its length of train behind it so that it resembled a small dingy harmless snake vanishing into weeds, drawing him with it too until soon it ran once more at its maximum clattering speed between the twin walls of unaxed wilderness as of old. It had been harmless once. Not five years ago Walter Ewell had shot a six-point buck from this same moving caboose, and there was the story of the half-grown bear: the train’s first trip in to the cutting thirty miles away, the bear between the rails, its rear end elevated like that of a playing puppy while it dug to see what sort of ants or bugs they might contain or perhaps just to examine the curious symmetrical squared barkless logs which had appeared apparently from nowhere in one endless mathematical line overnight, still digging until the driver on the braked engine not fifty feet away blew the whistle at it, whereupon it broke frantically and took the first tree it came to: an ash sapling not much bigger than a man’s thigh and climbed as high as it could and clung there, its head ducked between its arms as a man (a woman perhaps) might have done while the brakeman threw chunks of ballast at it, and when the engine returned three hours later with the first load of outbound logs the bear was halfway down the tree and once more scrambled back up as high as it could and clung again while the train passed and was still there when the engine went in again in the afternoon and still there when it came back out at dusk; and Boon had been in Hoke’s with the wagon after a barrel of flour that noon when the train-crew told about it and Boon and Ash, both twenty years younger then, sat under the tree all that night to keep anybody from shooting it and the next morning Major de Spain had the log-train held at Hoke’s and just before sundown on the second day, with not only Boon and Ash but Major de Spain and General Compson and Walter and McCaslin, twelve then, watching, it came down the tree after almost thirty-six hours without even water and McCaslin told him how for a minute they thought it was going to stop right there at the barrow-pit where they were standing and drink, how it looked at the water and paused and looked at them and at the water again, but did not, gone, running, as bears run, the two sets of feet, front and back, tracking two separate though parallel courses.

It had been harmless then. They would hear the passing log-train sometimes from the camp; sometimes, because nobody bothered to listen for it or not. They would hear it going in, running light and fast, the light clatter of the trucks, the exhaust of the diminutive locomotive and its shrill peanut-parcher whistle flung for one petty moment and absorbed by the brooding and inattentive wilderness without even an echo. They would hear it going out, loaded, not quite so fast now yet giving its frantic and toylike illusion of crawling speed, not whistling now to conserve steam, flinging its bitten laboring miniature puffing into the immemorial woodsface with frantic and bootless vainglory, empty and noisy and puerile, carrying to no destination or purpose sticks which left nowhere any scar or stump as the child’s toy loads and transports and unloads its dead sand and rushes back for more, tireless and unceasing and rapid yet never quite so fast as the Hand which plays with it moves the toy burden back to load the toy again. But it was different now. It was the same train, engine cars and caboose, even the same enginemen brakeman and conductor to whom Boon, drunk then sober then drunk again then fairly sober once more all in the space of fourteen hours, had bragged that day two years ago about what they were going to do to Old Ben tomorrow, running with its same illusion of frantic rapidity between the same twin walls of impenetrable and impervious woods, passing the old landmarks, the old game crossings over which he had trailed bucks wounded and not wounded and more than once seen them, anything but wounded, break out of the woods, up and across the embankment which bore the rails and ties then down and into the woods again as the earth-bound supposedly move but crossing as arrows travel, groundless, elongated, three times its actual length and even paler, different in color, as if there were a point between immobility and absolute motion where even mass chemically altered, changing without pain or agony not only in bulk and shape but in color too, approaching the color of wind, yet this time it was as though the train (and not only the train but himself, not only his vision which had seen it and his memory which remembered it but his clothes too, as garments carry back into the clean edgeless blowing of air the lingering effluvium of a sick-room or of death) had brought with it into the doomed wilderness even before the actual axe the shadow and portent of the new mill not even finished yet and the rails and ties which were not even laid; and he knew now what he had known as soon as he saw Hoke’s this morning but had not yet thought into words: why Major de Spain had not come back, and that after this time he himself, who had had to see it one time other, would return no more.

Now they were near. He knew it before the engine-driver whistled to warn him. Then he saw Ash and the wagon, the reins without doubt wrapped once more about the brake-lever as within the boy’s own memory Major de Spain had been forbidding him for eight years to do, the train slowing, the slackened couplings jolting and clashing again from car to car, the caboose slowing past the wagon as he swung down with his gun, the conductor leaning out above him to signal the engine, the caboose still slowing, creeping, although the engine’s exhaust was already slatting in mounting tempo against the unechoing wilderness, the crashing of draw-bars once more travelling backward along the train, the caboose picking up speed at last. Then it was gone. It had not been. He could no longer hear it. The wilderness soared, musing, inattentive, myriad, eternal, green; older than any mill-shed, longer than any spur-line. “Mr Boon here yet?” he said.

“He beat me in,” Ash said. “Had the wagon loaded and ready for me at Hoke’s yistiddy when I got there and setting on the front steps at camp last night when I got in. He already been in the woods since fo daylight this morning. Said he gwine up to the Gum Tree and for you to hunt up that way and meet him.” He knew where that was: a single big sweet-gum just outside the woods, in an old clearing; if you crept up to it very quietly this time of year and then ran suddenly into the clearing, sometimes you caught as many as a dozen squirrels in it, trapped, since there was no other tree near they could jump to. So he didn’t get into the wagon at all.

“I will,” he said.

“I figured you would,” Ash said, “I fotch you a box of shells.” He passed the shells down and began to unwrap the lines from the brake-pole.

“How many times up to now do you reckon Major has told you not to do that?” the boy said.

“Do which?” Ash said. Then he said: “And tell Boon Hogganbeck dinner gonter be on the table in a hour and if yawl want any to come on and eat it.”

“In an hour?” he said. “It aint nine oclock yet.” He drew out his watch and extended it face-toward Ash. “Look.” Ash didn’t even look at the watch.

“That’s town time. You aint in town now. You in the woods.”

“Look at the sun then.”

“Nemmine the sun too,” Ash said. “If you and Boon Hogganbeck want any dinner, you better come on in and get it when I tole you. I aim to get done in that kitchen because I got my wood to chop. And watch your feet. They’re crawling.”

“I will,” he said.

Then he was in the woods, not alone but solitary; the solitude closed about him, green with summer. They did not change, and, timeless, would not, anymore than would the green of summer and the fire and rain of fall and the iron cold and sometimes even snow

the day, the morning when he killed the buck and Sam marked his face with its hot blood, they returned to camp and he remembered old Ash’s blinking and disgruntled and even outraged disbelief until at last McCaslin had had to affirm the fact that he had really killed it: and that night Ash sat snarling and unapproachable behind the stove so that Tennie’s Jim had to serve the supper and waked them with breakfast already on the table the next morning and it was only half-past one oclock and at last out of Major de Spain’s angry cursing and Ash’s snarling and sullen rejoinders the fact emerged that Ash not only wanted to go into the woods and shoot a deer also but he intended to and Major de Spain said, ‘By God, if we dont let him we will probably have to do the cooking from now on:’ and Walter Ewell said, ‘Or get up at midnight to eat what Ash cooks:’ and since he had already killed his buck for this hunt and was not to shoot again unless they needed meat, he offered his gun to Ash until Major de Spain took command and allotted that gun to Boon for the day and gave Boon’s unpredictable pump gun to Ash, with two buckshot shells but Ash said, ‘I got shells:’ and showed them, four: one buck, one of number three shot for rabbits, two of bird-shot and told one by one their history and their origin and he remembered not Ash’s face alone but Major de Spain’s and Walter’s and General Compson’s too, and Ash’s voice: ‘Shoot? In course they’ll shoot! Genl Cawmpson guv me this un’—the buckshot—‘right outen the same gun he kilt that big buck with eight years ago. And this un’—it was the rabbit shell: triumphantly—‘is oldern thisyer boy!’ And that morning he loaded the gun himself, reversing the order: the bird-shot, the rabbit, then the buck so that the buckshot would feed first into the chamber, and himself without a gun, he and Ash walked beside Major de Spain’s and Tennie’s Jim’s horses and the dogs (that was the snow) until they cast and struck, the sweet strong cries ringing away into the muffled falling air and gone almost immediately, as if the constant and unmurmuring flakes had already buried even the unformed echoes beneath their myriad and weightless falling, Major de Spain and Tennie’s Jim gone too, whooping on into the woods; and then it was all right, he knew as plainly as if Ash had told him that Ash had now hunted his deer and that even his tender years had been forgiven for having killed one, and they turned back toward home through the falling snow—that is, Ash said, ‘Now whut?’ and he said, ‘This way’—himself in front because, although they were less than a mile from camp, he knew that Ash, who had spent two weeks of his life in the camp each year for the last twenty, had no idea whatever where they were, until quite soon the manner in which Ash carried Boon’s gun was making him a good deal more than just nervous and he made Ash walk in front, striding on, talking now, an old man’s garrulous monologue beginning with where he was at the moment then of the woods and of camping in the woods and of eating in camps then of eating then of cooking it and of his wife’s cooking then briefly of his old wife and almost at once and at length of a new light-colored woman who nursed next door to Major de Spain’s and if she didn’t watch out who she was switching her tail at he would show her how old was an old man or not if his wife just didn’t watch him all the time, the two of them in a game trail through a dense brake of cane and brier which would bring them out within a quarter-mile of camp, approaching a big fallen tree-trunk lying athwart the path and just as Ash, still talking, was about to step over it the bear, the yearling, rose suddenly beyond the log, sitting up, its forearms against its chest and its wrists limply arrested as if it had been surprised in the act of covering its face to pray: and after a certain time Ash’s gun yawed jerkily up and he said, ‘You haven’t got a shell in the barrel yet. Pump it:’ but the gun already snicked and he said, ‘Pump it. You haven’t got a shell in the barrel yet:’ and Ash pumped the action and in a certain time the gun steadied again and snicked and he said, ‘Pump it:’ and watched the buckshot shell jerk, spinning heavily, into the cane. This is the rabbit shot: he thought and the gun snicked and he thought: The next is bird-shot: and he didn’t have to say Pump it; he cried, ‘Dont shoot! Dont shoot!’ but that was already too late too, the light dry vicious snick! before he could speak and the bear turned and dropped to all-fours and then was gone and there was only the log, the cane, the velvet and constant snow and Ash said, ‘Now whut?’ and he said, ‘This way. Come on:’ and began to back away down the path and Ash said, ‘I got to find my shells:’ and he said, ‘Goddamn it, goddamn it, come on:’ but Ash leaned the gun against the log and returned and stooped and fumbled among the cane roots until he came back and stooped and found the shells and they rose and at that moment the gun, untouched, leaning against the log six feet away and for that while even forgotten by both of them, roared, bellowed and flamed, and ceased: and he carried it now, pumped out the last mummified shell and gave that one also to Ash and, the action still open, himself carried the gun until he stood it in the corner behind Boon’s bed at the camp

—; summer, and fall, and snow, and wet and saprife spring in their ordered immortal sequence, the deathless and immemorial phases of the mother who had shaped him if any had toward the man he almost was, mother and father both to the old man born of a Negro slave and a Chickasaw chief who had been his spirit’s father if any had, whom he had revered and harkened to and loved and lost and grieved: and he would marry someday and they too would own for their brief while that brief unsubstanced glory which inherently of itself cannot last and hence why glory: and they would, might, carry even the remembrance of it into the time when flesh no longer talks to flesh because memory at least does last: but still the woods would be his mistress and his wife.

He was not going toward the Gum Tree. Actually he was getting farther from it. Time was and not so long ago either when he would not have been allowed here without someone with him, and a little later, when he had begun to learn how much he did not know, he would not have dared be here without someone with him, and later still, beginning to ascertain, even if only dimly, the limits of what he did not know, he could have attempted and carried it through with a compass, not because of any increased belief in himself but because McCaslin and Major de Spain and Walter and General Compson too had taught him at last to believe the compass regardless of what it seemed to state. Now he did not even use the compass but merely the sun and that only subconsciously, yet he could have taken a scaled map and plotted at any time to within a hundred feet of where he actually was; and sure enough, at almost the exact moment when he expected it, the earth began to rise faintly, he passed one of the four concrete markers set down by the lumber company’s surveyor to establish the four corners of the plot which Major de Spain had reserved out of the sale, then he stood on the crest of the knoll itself, the four corner-markers all visible now, blanched still even beneath the winter’s weathering, lifeless and shockingly alien in that place where dissolution itself was a seething turmoil of ejaculation tumescence conception and birth, and death did not even exist. After two winters’ blanketings of leaves and the flood-waters of two springs, there was no trace of the two graves anymore at all. But those who would have come this far to find them would not need headstones but would have found them as Sam Fathers himself had taught him to find such: by bearings on trees: and did, almost the first thrust of the hunting knife finding (but only to see if it was still there) the round tin box manufactured for axle-grease and containing now Old Ben’s dried mutilated paw, resting above Lion’s bones.

He didn’t disturb it. He didn’t even look for the other grave where he and McCaslin and Major de Spain and Boon had laid Sam’s body, along with his hunting horn and his knife and his tobacco-pipe, that Sunday morning two years ago; he didn’t have to. He had stepped over it, perhaps on it. But that was all right. He probably knew I was in the woods this morning long before I got here, he thought, going on to the tree which had supported one end of the platform where Sam lay when McCaslin and Major de Spain found them—the tree, the other axle-grease tin nailed to the trunk, but weathered, rusted, alien too yet healed already into the wilderness’ concordant generality, raising no tuneless note, and empty, long since empty of the food and tobacco he had put into it that day, as empty of that as it would presently be of this which he drew from his pocket—the twist of tobacco, the new bandanna handkerchief, the small paper sack of the peppermint candy which Sam had used to love; that gone too, almost before he had turned his back, not vanished but merely translated into the myriad life which printed the dark mold of these secret and sunless places with delicate fairy tracks, which, breathing and biding and immobile, watched him from beyond every twig and leaf until he moved, moving again, walking on; he had not stopped, he had only paused, quitting the knoll which was no abode of the dead because there was no death, not Lion and not Sam: not held fast in earth but free in earth and not in earth but of earth, myriad yet undiffused of every myriad part, leaf and twig and particle, air and sun and rain and dew and night, acorn oak and leaf and acorn again, dark and dawn and dark and dawn again in their immutable progression and, being myriad, one: and Old Ben too, Old Ben too; they would give him his paw back even, certainly they would give him his paw back: then the long challenge and the long chase, no heart to be driven and outraged, no flesh to be mauled and bled—Even as he froze himself, he seemed to hear Ash’s parting admonition. He could even hear the voice as he froze, immobile, one foot just taking his weight, the toe of the other just lifted behind him, not breathing, feeling again and as always the sharp shocking inrush from when Isaac McCaslin long yet was not, and so it was fear all right but not fright as he looked down at it. It had not coiled yet and the buzzer had not sounded either, only one thick rapid contraction, one loop cast sideways as though merely for purchase from which the raised head might start slightly backward, not in fright either, not in threat quite yet, more than six feet of it, the head raised higher than his knee and less than his knee’s length away, and old, the once-bright markings of its youth dulled now to a monotone concordant too with the wilderness it crawled and lurked: the old one, the ancient and accursed about the earth, fatal and solitary and he could smell it now: the thin sick smell of rotting cucumbers and something else which had no name, evocative of all knowledge and an old weariness and of pariah-hood and of death. At last it moved. Not the head. The elevation of the head did not change as it began to glide away from him, moving erect yet off the perpendicular as if the head and that elevated third were complete and all: an entity walking on two feet and free of all laws of mass and balance and should have been because even now he could not quite believe that all that shift and flow of shadow behind that walking head could have been one snake: going and then gone; he put the other foot down at last and didn’t know it, standing with one hand raised as Sam had stood that afternoon six years ago when Sam led him into the wilderness and showed him and he ceased to be a child, speaking the old tongue which Sam had spoken that day without premeditation either: “Chief,” he said: “Grandfather.”

He couldn’t tell when he first began to hear the sound, because when he became aware of it, it seemed to him that he had been already hearing it for several seconds—a sound as though someone were hammering a gun-barrel against a piece of railroad iron, a sound loud and heavy and not rapid yet with something frenzied about it, as the hammerer were not only a strong man and an earnest one but a little hysterical too. Yet it couldn’t be on the log-line because, although the track lay in that direction, it was at least two miles from him and this sound was not three hundred yards away. But even as he thought that, he realised where the sound must be coming from: whoever the man was and whatever he was doing, he was somewhere near the edge of the clearing where the Gum Tree was and where he was to meet Boon. So far, he had been hunting as he advanced, moving slowly and quietly and watching the ground and the trees both. Now he went on, his gun unloaded and the barrel slanted up and back to facilitate its passage through brier and undergrowth, approaching as it grew louder and louder that steady savage somehow queerly hysterical beating of metal on metal, emerging from the woods, into the old clearing, with the solitary gum tree directly before him. At first glance the tree seemed to be alive with frantic squirrels. There appeared to be forty or fifty of them leaping and darting from branch to branch until the whole tree had become one green maelstrom of mad leaves, while from time to time, singly or in twos and threes, squirrels would dart down the trunk then whirl without stopping and rush back up again as though sucked violently back by the vacuum of their fellows’ frenzied vortex. Then he saw Boon, sitting, his back against the trunk, his head bent, hammering furiously at something on his lap. What he hammered with was the barrel of his dismembered gun, what he hammered at was the breech of it. The rest of the gun lay scattered about him in a half-dozen pieces while he bent over the piece on his lap his scarlet and streaming walnut face, hammering the disjointed barrel against the gun-breech with the frantic abandon of a madman. He didn’t even look up to see who it was. Still hammering, he merely shouted back at the boy in a hoarse strangled voice:

“Get out of here! Dont touch them! Dont touch a one of them! They’re mine!”

Old Man

Once (it was in Mississippi, in May, in the flood year 1927) there were two convicts. One of them was about twenty-five, tall, lean, flat-stomached, with a sunburned face and Indian-black hair and pale, china-colored outraged eyes—an outrage directed not at the men who had foiled his crime, not even at the lawyers and judges who had sent him here, but at the writers, the uncorporeal names attached to the stories, the paper novels—the Diamond Dicks and Jesse Jameses and such—whom he believed had led him into his present predicament through their own ignorance and gullibility regarding the medium in which they dealt and took money for, in accepting information on which they placed the stamp of verisimilitude and authenticity (this so much the more criminal since there was no sworn notarised statement attached and hence so much the quicker would the information be accepted by one who expected the same unspoken good faith, demanding, asking, expecting no certification, which he extended along with the dime or fifteen cents to pay for it) and retailed for money and which on actual application proved to be impractical and (to the convict) criminally false; there would be times when he would halt his mule and plow in midfurrow (there is no walled penitentiary in Mississippi; it is a cotton plantation which the convicts work under the rifles and shotguns of guards and trusties) and muse with a kind of enraged impotence, fumbling among the rubbish left him by his one and only experience with courts and law, fumbling until the meaningless and verbose shibboleth took form at last (himself seeking justice at the same blind fount where he had met justice and been hurled back and down): Using the mails to defraud: who felt that he had been defrauded by the third-class mail system not of crass and stupid money which he did not particularly want anyway, but of liberty and honor and pride.

He was in for fifteen years (he had arrived shortly after his nineteenth birthday) for attempted train robbery. He had laid his plans in advance, he had followed his printed (and false) authority to the letter; he had saved the paper-backs for two years, reading and re-reading them, memorising them, comparing and weighing story and method against story and method, taking the good from each and discarding the dross as his workable plan emerged, keeping his mind open to make the subtle last-minute changes, without haste and without impatience, as the newer pamphlets appeared on their appointed days as a conscientious dressmaker makes the subtle alterations in a court presentation costume as the newer bulletins appear. And then when the day came, he did not even have a chance to go through the coaches and collect the watches and the rings, the brooches and the hidden money-belts, because he had been captured as soon as he entered the express car where the safe and the gold would be. He had shot no one because the pistol which they took away from him was not that kind of a pistol although it was loaded; later he admitted to the District Attorney that he had got it, as well as the dark lantern in which a candle burned and the black handkerchief to wear over the face, by peddling among his pinehill neighbors subscriptions to the Detectives’ Gazette. So now from time to time (he had ample leisure for it) he mused with that raging impotence, because there was something else he could not tell them at the trial, did not know how to tell them. It was not the money he had wanted. It was not riches, not the crass loot; that would have been merely a bangle to wear upon the breast of his pride like the Olympic runner’s amateur medal—a symbol, a badge to show that he too was the best at his chosen gambit in the living and fluid world of his time. So that at times as he trod the richly shearing black earth behind his plow or with a hoe thinned the sprouting cotton and corn or lay on his sullen back in his bunk after supper, he cursed in a harsh steady unrepetitive stream, not at the living men who had put him where he was but at what he did not even know were pen-names, did not even know were not actual men but merely the designations of shades who had written about shades.

The second convict was short and plump. Almost hairless, he was quite white. He looked like something exposed to light by turning over rotting logs or planks and he too carried (though not in his eyes like the first convict) a sense of burning and impotent outrage. So it did not show on him and hence none knew it was there. But then nobody knew very much about him, including the people who had sent him here. His outrage was directed at no printed word but at the paradoxical fact that he had been forced to come here of his own free choice and will. He had been forced to choose between the Mississippi State penal farm and the Federal Penitentiary at Atlanta, and the fact that he, who resembled a hairless and pallid slug, had chosen the out-of-doors and the sunlight was merely another manifestation of the close-guarded and solitary enigma of his character, as something recognisable roils momentarily into view from beneath stagnant and opaque water, then sinks again. None of his fellow prisoners knew what his crime had been, save that he was in for a hundred and ninety-nine years—this incredible and impossible period of punishment or restraint itself carrying a vicious and fabulous quality which indicated that his reason for being here was such that the very men, the paladins and pillars of justice and equity who had sent him here had during that moment become blind apostles not of mere justice but of all human decency, blind instruments not of equity but of all human outrage and vengeance, acting in a savage personal concert, judge, lawyer and jury, which certainly abrogated justice and possibly even law. Possibly only the Federal and State’s Attorneys knew what the crime actually was. There had been a woman in it and a stolen automobile transported across a State line, a filling station robbed and the attendant shot to death. There had been a second man in the car at the time and anyone could have looked once at the convict (as the two attorneys did) and known he would not even have had the synthetic courage of alcohol to pull trigger on anyone. But he and the woman and the stolen car had been captured while the second man, doubtless the actual murderer, had escaped, so that, brought to bay at last in the State’s Attorney’s office, harried, dishevelled and snarling, the two grimly implacable and viciously gleeful attorneys in his front and the now raging woman held by two policemen in the anteroom in his rear, he was given his choice. He could be tried in Federal Court under the Mann Act and for the automobile, that is, by electing to pass through the anteroom where the woman raged he could take his chances on the lesser crime in Federal Court, or by accepting a sentence for manslaughter in the State Court he would be permitted to quit the room by a back entrance, without having to pass the woman. He had chosen; he stood at the bar and heard a judge (who looked down at him as if the District Attorney actually had turned over a rotten plank with his toe and exposed him) sentence him to a hundred and ninety-nine years at the State Farm. Thus (he had ample leisure too; they had tried to teach him to plow and had failed, they had put him in the blacksmith shop and the foreman trusty himself had asked to have him removed: so that now, in a long apron like a woman, he cooked and swept and dusted in the deputy wardens’ barracks) he too mused at times with that sense of impotence and outrage though it did not show on him as on the first convict since he leaned on no halted broom to do it and so none knew it was there.

It was this second convict who, toward the end of April, began to read aloud to the others from the daily newspapers when, chained ankle to ankle and herded by armed guards, they had come up from the fields and had eaten supper and were gathered in the bunkhouse. It was the Memphis newspaper which the deputy wardens had read at breakfast; the convict read aloud from it to his companions who could have had but little active interest in the outside world, some of whom could not have read it for themselves at all and did not even know where the Ohio and Missouri river basins were, some of whom had never even seen the Mississippi River although for past periods ranging from a few days to ten and twenty and thirty years (and for future periods ranging from a few months to life) they had plowed and planted and eaten and slept beneath the shadow of the levee itself, knowing only that there was water beyond it from hearsay and because now and then they heard the whistles of steamboats from beyond it and, during the last week or so had seen the stacks and pilot houses moving along the sky sixty feet above their heads.

But they listened, and soon even those who like the taller convict had probably never before seen more water than a horse pond would hold knew what thirty feet on a river gauge at Cairo or Memphis meant and could (and did) talk glibly of sandboils. Perhaps what actually moved them were the accounts of the conscripted levee gangs, mixed blacks and whites working in double shifts against the steadily rising water; stories of men, even though they were negroes, being forced like themselves to do work for which they received no other pay than coarse food and a place in a mudfloored tent to sleep on—stories, pictures, which emerged from the shorter convict’s reading voice: the mudsplashed white men with the inevitable shotguns, the antlike lines of negroes carrying sandbags, slipping and crawling up the steep face of the revetment to hurl their futile ammunition into the face of a flood and return for more. Or perhaps it was more than this. Perhaps they watched the approach of the disaster with that same amazed and incredulous hope of the slaves—the lions and bears and elephants, the grooms and bathmen and pastrycooks—who watched the mounting flames of Rome from Ahenobarbus’ gardens. But listen they did and presently it was May and the wardens’ newspaper began to talk in headlines two inches tall—those black staccato slashes of ink which, it would almost seem, even the illiterate should be able to read: Crest Passes Memphis at Midnight 4000 Homeless in White River Basin Governor Calls out National Guard Martial Law Declared in Following Counties Red Cross Train with President Hoover Leaves Washington Tonight; then, three evenings later (It had been raining all day—not the vivid brief thunderous downpours of April and May, but the slow steady gray rain of November and December before a cold north wind. The men had not gone to the fields at all during the day, and the very second-hand optimism of the almost twenty-four-hour-old news seemed to contain its own refutation.): Crest Now Below Memphis 22,000 Refugees Safe at Vicksburg Army Engineers Say Levees Will Hold.

“I reckon that means it will bust tonight,” one convict said.

“Well, maybe this rain will hold on until the water gets here,” a second said. They all agreed to this because what they meant, the living unspoken thought among them, was that if the weather cleared, even though the levees broke and the flood moved in upon the Farm itself, they would have to return to the fields and work, which they would have had to do. There was nothing paradoxical in this, although they could not have expressed the reason for it which they instinctively perceived: that the land they farmed and the substance they produced from it belonged neither to them who worked it nor to those who forced them at guns’ point to do so, that as far as either—convicts or guards—were concerned, it could have been pebbles they put into the ground and papier-mâché cotton- and corn-sprouts which they thinned. So it was that, what between the sudden wild hoping and the idle day and the evening’s headlines, they were sleeping restlessly beneath the sound of the rain on the tin roof when at midnight the sudden glare of the electric bulbs and the guards’ voices waked them and they heard the throbbing of the waiting trucks.

“Turn out of there!” the deputy shouted. He was fully dressed—rubber boots, slicker and shotgun. “The levee went out at Mound’s Landing an hour ago. Get up out of it!”

When the belated and streaming dawn broke the two convicts, along with twenty others, were in a truck. A trusty drove, two armed guards sat in the cab with him. Inside the high, stall-like topless body the convicts stood, packed like matches in an upright box or like the pencil-shaped ranks of cordite in a shell, shackled by the ankles to a single chain which wove among the motionless feet and swaying legs and a clutter of picks and shovels among which they stood, and was riveted by both ends to the steel body of the truck.

Then and without warning they saw the flood about which the plump convict had been reading and they listening for two weeks or more. The road ran south. It was built on a raised levee, known locally as a dump, about eight feet above the flat surrounding land, bordered on both sides by the barrow pits from which the earth of the levee had been excavated. These barrow pits had held water all winter from the fall rains, not to speak of the rain of yesterday, but now they saw that the pit on either side of the road had vanished and instead there lay a flat still sheet of brown water which extended into the fields beyond the pits, ravelled out into long motionless shreds in the bottom of the plow furrows and gleaming faintly in the gray light like the bars of a prone and enormous grating. And then (the truck was moving at good speed) as they watched quietly (they had not been talking much anyway but now they were all silent and quite grave, shifting and craning as one to look soberly off to the west side of the road) the crests of the furrows vanished too and they now looked at a single perfectly flat and motionless steel-colored sheet in which the telephone poles and the straight hedgerows which marked section lines seemed to be fixed and rigid as though set in concrete.

It was perfectly motionless, perfectly flat. It looked, not innocent, but bland. It looked almost demure. It looked as if you could walk on it. It looked so still that they did not realise it possessed motion until they came to the first bridge. There was a ditch under the bridge, a small stream, but ditch and stream were both invisible now, indicated only by the rows of cypress and bramble which marked its course. Here they both saw and heard movement—the slow profound eastward and upstream (“It’s running backward,” one convict said quietly.) set of the still rigid surface, from beneath which came a deep faint subaquean rumble which (though none in the truck could have made the comparison) sounded like a subway train passing far beneath the street and which inferred a terrific and secret speed. It was as if the water itself were in three strata, separate and distinct, the bland and unhurried surface bearing a frothy scum and a miniature flotsam of twigs and screening as though by vicious calculation the rush and fury of the flood itself, and beneath this in turn the original stream, trickle, murmuring along in the opposite direction, following undisturbed and unaware its appointed course and serving its Lilliputian end, like a thread of ants between the rails on which an express train passes, they (the ants) as unaware of the power and fury as if it were a cyclone crossing Saturn.

Now there was water on both sides of the road and now, as if once they had become aware of movement in the water the water seemed to have given over deception and concealment, they seemed to be able to watch it rising up the flanks of the dump; trees which a few miles back had stood on tall trunks above the water now seemed to burst from the surface at the level of the lower branches like decorative shrubs on barbered lawns. The truck passed a negro cabin. The water was up to the window ledges. A woman clutching two children squatted on the ridgepole, a man and a halfgrown youth, standing waist-deep, were hoisting a squealing pig onto the slanting roof of a barn, on the ridgepole of which sat a row of chickens and a turkey. Near the barn was a haystack on which a cow stood tied by a rope to the center pole and bawling steadily; a yelling negro boy on a saddleless mule which he flogged steadily, his legs clutching the mule’s barrel and his body leaned to the drag of a rope attached to a second mule, approached the haystack, splashing and floundering. The woman on the housetop began to shriek at the passing truck, her voice carrying faint and melodious across the brown water, becoming fainter and fainter as the truck passed and went on, ceasing at last, whether because of distance or because she had stopped screaming those in the truck did not know.

Then the road vanished. There was no perceptible slant to it yet it had slipped abruptly beneath the brown surface with no ripple, no ridgy demarcation, like a flat thin blade slipped obliquely into flesh by a delicate hand, annealed into the water without disturbance, as if it had existed so for years, had been built that way. The truck stopped. The trusty descended from the cab and came back and dragged two shovels from among their feet, the blades clashing against the serpentining of the chain about their ankles. “What is it?” one said. “What are you fixing to do?” The trusty didn’t answer. He returned to the cab, from which one of the guards had descended, without his shotgun. He and the trusty, both in hip boots and each carrying a shovel, advanced into the water, gingerly, probing and feeling ahead with the shovel handles. The same convict spoke again. He was a middle-aged man with a wild thatch of iron-gray hair and a slightly mad face. “What the hell are they doing?” he said. Again nobody answered him. The truck moved, on into the water, behind the guard and the trusty, beginning to push ahead of itself a thick slow viscid ridge of chocolate water. Then the gray-haired convict began to scream. “God damn it, unlock the chain!” He began to struggle, thrashing violently about him, striking at the men nearest him until he reached the cab, the roof of which he now hammered on with his fists, screaming. “God damn it, unlock us! Unlock us! Son of a bitch!” he screamed, addressing no one. “They’re going to drown us! Unlock the chain!” But for all the answer he got the men within radius of his voice might have been dead. The truck crawled on, the guard and the trusty feeling out the road ahead with the reversed shovels, the second guard at the wheel, the twenty-two convicts packed like sardines into the truck bed and padlocked by the ankles to the body of the truck itself. They crossed another bridge—two delicate and paradoxical iron railings slanting out of the water, travelling parallel to it for a distance, then slanting down into it again with an outrageous quality almost significant yet apparently meaningless like something in a dream not quite nightmare. The truck crawled on.

Along toward noon they came to a town, their destination. The streets were paved; now the wheels of the truck made a sound like tearing silk. Moving faster now, the guard and the trusty in the cab again, the truck even had a slight bone in its teeth, its bow-wave spreading beyond the submerged sidewalks and across the adjacent lawns, lapping against the stoops and porches of houses where people stood among piles of furniture. They passed through the business district; a man in hip boots emerged knee-deep in water from a store, dragging a flat-bottomed skiff containing a steel safe.

At last they reached the railroad. It crossed the street at right angles, cutting the town in two. It was on a dump, a levee, also, eight or ten feet above the town itself; the street ran blankly into it and turned at right angles beside a cotton compress and a loading platform on stilts at the level of a freight car door. On this platform was a khaki army tent and a uniformed National Guard sentry with a rifle and bandolier.

The truck turned and crawled out of the water and up the ramp which cotton wagons used and where trucks and private cars filled with household goods came and unloaded onto the platform. They were unlocked from the chain in the truck and shackled ankle to ankle in pairs they mounted the platform and into an apparently inextricable jumble of beds and trunks, gas and electric stoves, radios and tables and chairs and framed pictures which a chain of negroes under the eye of an unshaven white man in muddy corduroy and hip boots carried piece by piece into the compress, at the door of which another guardsman stood with his rifle, they (the convicts) not stopping here but herded on by the two guards with their shotguns, into the dim and cavernous building where among the piled heterogeneous furniture the ends of cotton bales and the mirrors on dressers and sideboards gleamed with an identical mute and unreflecting concentration of pallid light.

They passed on through, onto the loading platform where the army tent and the first sentry were. They waited here. Nobody told them for what nor why. While the two guards talked with the sentry before the tent the convicts sat in a line along the edge of the platform like buzzards on a fence, their shackled feet dangling above the brown motionless flood out of which the railroad embankment rose, pristine and intact, in a kind of paradoxical denial and repudiation of change and portent, not talking, just looking quietly across the track to where the other half of the amputated town seemed to float, house shrub and tree, ordered and pageant-like and without motion, upon the limitless liquid plain beneath the thick gray sky.

After a while the other four trucks from the Farm arrived. They came up, bunched closely, radiator to tail light, with their four separate sounds of tearing silk and vanished beyond the compress. Presently the ones on the platform heard the feet, the mute clashing of the shackles, the first truckload emerged from the compress, the second, the third; there were more than a hundred of them now in their bed-ticking overalls and jumpers and fifteen or twenty guards with rifles and shotguns. The first lot rose and they mingled, paired, twinned by their clanking and clashing umbilicals; then it began to rain, a slow steady gray drizzle like November instead of May. Yet not one of them made any move toward the open door of the compress. They did not even look toward it, with longing or hope or without it. If they thought at all, they doubtless knew that the available space in it would be needed for furniture, even if it were not already filled. Or perhaps they knew that, even if there were room in it, it would not be for them, not that the guards would wish them to get wet but that the guards would not think about getting them out of the rain. So they just stopped talking and with their jumper collars turned up and shackled in braces like dogs at a field trial they stood, immobile, patient, almost ruminant, their backs turned to the rain as sheep and cattle do.

After another while they became aware that the number of soldiers had increased to a dozen or more, warm and dry beneath rubberised ponchos, there was an officer with a pistol at his belt, then and without making any move toward it, they began to smell food and, turning to look, saw an army field kitchen set up just inside the compress door. But they made no move, they waited until they were herded into line, they inched forward, their heads lowered and patient in the rain, and received each a bowl of stew, a mug of coffee, two slices of bread. They ate this in the rain. They did not sit down because the platform was wet, they squatted on their heels as country men do, hunching forward, trying to shield the bowls and mugs into which nevertheless the rain splashed steadily as into miniature ponds and soaked, invisible and soundless, into the bread.

After they had stood on the platform for three hours, a train came for them. Those nearest the edge saw it, watched it—a passenger coach apparently running under its own power and trailing a cloud of smoke from no visible stack, a cloud which did not rise but instead shifted slowly and heavily aside and lay upon the surface of the aqueous earth with a quality at once weightless and completely spent. It came up and stopped, a single old fashioned open-ended wooden car coupled to the nose of a pushing switch engine considerably smaller. They were herded into it, crowding forward to the other end where there was a small cast iron stove. There was no fire in it, nevertheless they crowded about it—the cold and voiceless lump of iron stained with fading tobacco and hovered about by the ghosts of a thousand Sunday excursions to Memphis or Moorhead and return—the peanuts, the bananas, the soiled garments of infants—huddling, shoving for places near it. “Come on, come on,” one of the guards shouted. “Sit down, now.” At last three of the guards, laying aside their guns, came among them and broke up the huddle, driving them back and into seats.

There were not enough seats for all. The others stood in the aisle, they stood braced, they heard the air hiss out of the released brakes, the engine whistled four blasts, the car came into motion with a snapping jerk; the platform, the compress fled violently as the train seemed to transpose from immobility to full speed with that same quality of unreality with which it had appeared, running backward now though with the engine in front where before it had moved forward but with the engine behind.

When the railroad in its turn ran beneath the surface of the water, the convicts did not even know it. They felt the train stop, they heard the engine blow a long blast which wailed away unechoed across the waste, wild and forlorn, and they were not even curious; they sat or stood behind the rain-streaming windows as the train crawled on again, feeling its way as the truck had while the brown water swirled between the trucks and among the spokes of the driving wheels and lapped in cloudy steam against the dragging fire-filled belly of the engine; again it blew four short harsh blasts filled with the wild triumph and defiance yet also with repudiation and even farewell, as if the articulated steel itself knew it did not dare stop and would not be able to return. Two hours later in the twilight they saw through the streaming windows a burning plantation house. Juxtaposed to nowhere and neighbored by nothing it stood, a clear steady pyre-like flame rigidly fleeing its own reflection, burning in the dusk above the watery desolation with a quality paradoxical, outrageous and bizarre.

Sometime after dark the train stopped. The convicts did not know where they were. They did not ask. They would no more have thought of asking where they were than they would have asked why and what for. They couldn’t even see, since the car was unlighted and the windows fogged on the outside by rain and on the inside by the engendered heat of the packed bodies. All they could see was a milky and sourceless flick and glare of flashlights. They could hear shouts and commands, then the guards inside the car began to shout; they were herded to their feet and toward the exit, the ankle chains clashing and clanking. They descended into a fierce hissing of steam, through ragged wisps of it blowing past the car. Laid-to alongside the train and resembling a train itself was a thick blunt motor launch to which was attached a string of skiffs and flat boats. There were more soldiers; the flashlights played on the rifle barrels and bandolier buckles and flicked and glinted on the ankle chains of the convicts as they stepped gingerly down into knee-deep water and entered the boats; now car and engine both vanished completely in steam as the crew began dumping the fire from the firebox.

After another hour they began to see lights ahead—a faint wavering row of red pin-pricks extending along the horizon and apparently hanging low in the sky. But it took almost another hour to reach them while the convicts squatted in the skiffs, huddled into the soaked garments (they no longer felt the rain any more at all as separate drops) and watched the lights draw nearer and nearer until at last the crest of the levee defined itself; now they could discern a row of army tents stretching along it and people squatting about the fires, the wavering reflections from which, stretching across the water, revealed an involved mass of other skiffs tied against the flank of the levee which now stood high and dark overhead. Flashlights glared and winked along the base, among the tethered skiffs; the launch, silent now, drifted in.

When they reached the top of the levee they could see the long line of khaki tents, interspersed with fires about which people—men, women and children, negro and white—crouched or stood among shapeless bales of clothing, their heads turning, their eyeballs glinting in the firelight as they looked quietly at the striped garments and the chains; further down the levee, huddled together too though untethered, was a drove of mules and two or three cows. Then the taller convict became conscious of another sound. He did not begin to hear it all at once, he suddenly became aware that he had been hearing it all the time, a sound so much beyond all his experience and his powers of assimilation that up to this point he had been as oblivious of it as an ant or a flea might be of the sound of the avalanche on which it rides; he had been travelling upon water since early afternoon and for seven years now he had run his plow and harrow and planter within the very shadow of the levee on which he now stood, but this profound deep whisper which came from the further side of it he did not at once recognise. He stopped. The line of convicts behind jolted into him like a line of freight cars stopping, with an iron clashing like cars. “Get on!” a guard shouted.

“What’s that?” the convict said. A negro man squatting before the nearest fire answered him:

“Dat’s him. Dat’s de Ole Man.”

“The old man?” the convict said.

“Get on! Get on up there!” the guard shouted. They went on; they passed another huddle of mules, the eyeballs rolling too, the long morose faces turning into and out of the firelight; they passed them and reached a section of empty tents, the light pup tents of a military campaign, made to hold two men. The guards herded the convicts into them, three brace of shackled men to each tent.

They crawled in on all fours, like dogs into cramped kennels, and settled down. Presently the tent became warm from their bodies. Then they became quiet and then all of them could hear it, they lay listening to the bass whisper deep, strong and powerful. “The old man?” the train-robber convict said.

“Yah,” another said. “He dont have to brag.”

At dawn the guards waked them by kicking the soles of the projecting feet. Opposite the muddy landing and the huddle of skiffs an army field kitchen was set up, already they could smell the coffee. But the taller convict at least, even though he had had but one meal yesterday and that at noon in the rain, did not move at once toward the food. Instead and for the first time he looked at the River within whose shadow he had spent the last seven years of his life but had never seen before; he stood in quiet and amazed surmise and looked at the rigid steel-colored surface not broken into waves but merely slightly undulant. It stretched from the levee on which he stood, further than he could see—a slowly and heavily roiling chocolate-frothy expanse broken only by a thin line a mile away as fragile in appearance as a single hair, which after a moment he recognised. It’s another levee, he thought quietly. That’s what we look like from there. That’s what I am standing on looks like from there. He was prodded from the rear; a guard’s voice carried forward: “Go on! Go on! You’ll have plenty of time to look at that!”

They received the same stew and coffee and bread as the day before; they squatted again with their bowls and mugs as yesterday, though it was not raining yet. During the night an intact wooden barn had floated up. It now lay jammed by the current against the levee while a crowd of negroes swarmed over it, ripping off the shingles and planks and carrying them up the bank; eating steadily and without haste, the taller convict watched the barn dissolve rapidly down to the very water-line exactly as a dead fly vanished beneath the moiling industry of a swarm of ants.

They finished eating. Then it began to rain again, as upon a signal, while they stood or squatted in their harsh garments which had not dried out during the night but had merely become slightly warmer than the air. Presently they were haled to their feet and told off into two groups, one of which was armed from a stack of mud-clogged picks and shovels nearby, and marched away up the levee. A little later the motor launch with its train of skiffs came up across what was, fifteen feet beneath its keel, probably a cotton field, the skiffs loaded to the gunwales with negroes and a scattering of white people nursing bundles on their laps. When the engine shut off the faint plinking of a guitar came across the water. The skiffs warped in and unloaded; the convicts watched the men and women and children struggle up the muddy slope, carrying heavy towsacks and bundles wrapped in quilts. The sound of the guitar had not ceased and now the convicts saw him—a young, black, lean-hipped man, the guitar slung by a piece of cotton plow line about his neck. He mounted the levee, still picking it. He carried nothing else, no food, no change of clothes, not even a coat.

The taller convict was so busy watching this that he did not hear the guard until the guard stood directly beside him shouting his name. “Wake up!” the guard shouted. “Can you fellows paddle a boat?”

“Paddle a boat where?” the taller convict said.

“In the water,” the guard said. “Where in hell do you think?”

“I aint going to paddle no boat nowhere out yonder,” the tall convict said, jerking his head toward the invisible river beyond the levee behind him.

“No, it’s on this side,” the guard said. He stooped swiftly and unlocked the chain which joined the tall convict and the plump hairless one. “It’s just down the road a piece.” He rose. The two convicts followed him down to the boats. “Follow them telephone poles until you come to a filling station. You can tell it, the roof is still above water. It’s on a bayou and you can tell the bayou because the tops of the trees are sticking up. Follow the bayou until you come to a cypress snag with a woman in it. Pick her up and then cut straight back west until you come to a cotton house with a fellow sitting on the ridgepole—” He turned, looking at the two convicts, who stood perfectly still, looking first at the skiff and then at the water with intense sobriety. “Well? What are you waiting for?”

“I cant row a boat,” the plump convict said.

“Then it’s high time you learned,” the guard said. “Get in.”

The tall convict shoved the other forward. “Get in,” he said. “That water aint going to hurt you. Aint nobody going to make you take a bath.”

As, the plump one in the bow and the other in the stem, they shoved away from the levee, they saw other pairs being unshackled and manning the other skiffs. “I wonder how many more of them fellows are seeing this much water for the first time in their lives too,” the tall convict said. The other did not answer. He knelt in the bottom of the skiff, pecking gingerly at the water now and then with his paddle. The very shape of his thick soft back seemed to wear that expression of wary and tense concern.

Some time after midnight a rescue boat filled to the guard rail with homeless men and women and children docked at Vicksburg. It was a steamer, shallow of draft; all day long it had poked up and down cypress- and gum-choked bayous and across cotton fields (where at times instead of swimming it waded) gathering its sorry cargo from the tops of houses and barns and even out of trees, and now it warped into that mushroom city of the forlorn and despairing where kerosene flares smoked in the drizzle and hurriedly strung electrics glared upon the bayonets of martial policemen and the Red Cross brassards of doctors and nurses and canteen-workers. The bluff overhead was almost solid with tents, yet still there were more people than shelter for them; they sat or lay, single and by whole families, under what shelter they could find or sometimes under the rain itself, in the little death of profound exhaustion while the doctors and the nurses and the soldiers stepped over and around and among them.

Among the first to disembark was one of the penitentiary deputy wardens, followed closely by the plump convict and another white man—a small man with a gaunt unshaven wan face still wearing an expression of incredulous outrage. The deputy warden seemed to know exactly where he wished to go. Followed closely by his two companions he threaded his way swiftly among the piled furniture and the sleeping bodies and stood presently in a fiercely lighted and hastily established temporary office, almost a military post of command in fact, where the Warden of the Penitentiary sat with two army officers wearing majors’ leaves. The deputy warden spoke without preamble. “We lost a man,” he said. He called the tall convict’s name.

“Lost him?” the Warden said.

“Yah. Drowned.” Without turning his head he spoke to the plump convict. “Tell him,” he said.

“He was the one that said he could row a boat,” the plump convict said. “I never. I told him myself—” he indicated the deputy warden with a jerk of his head “—I couldn’t. So when we got to the bayou—”

“What’s this?” the Warden said.

“The launch brought word in,” the deputy warden said. “Woman in a cypress snag on the bayou, then this fellow—” he indicated the third man; the Warden and the two officers looked at the third man “—on a cottonhouse. Never had room in the launch to pick them up. Go on.”

“So we come to where the bayou was,” the plump convict continued in a voice perfectly flat, without any inflection whatever. “Then the boat got away from him. I dont know what happened. I was just sitting there because he was so positive he could row a boat. I never saw any current. Just all of a sudden the boat whirled clean around and begun to run fast backward like it was hitched to a train and it whirled around again and I happened to look up and there was a limb right over my head and I grabbed it just in time and that boat was snatched out from under me like you’d snatch off a sock and I saw it one time more upside down and that fellow that said he knew all about rowing holding to it with one hand and still holding the paddle in the other—” He ceased. There was no dying fall to his voice, it just ceased and the convict stood looking quietly at a half-full quart of whiskey sitting on the table.

“How do you know he’s drowned?” the Warden said to the deputy. “How do you know he didn’t just see his chance to escape, and took it?”

“Escape where?” the other said. “The whole Delta’s flooded. There’s fifteen foot of water for fifty miles, clean back to the hills. And that boat was upside down.”

“That fellow’s drowned,” the plump convict said. “You dont need to worry about him. He’s got his pardon; it wont cramp nobody’s hand signing it, neither.”

“And nobody else saw him?” the Warden said. “What about the woman in the tree?”

“I dont know,” the deputy said. “I aint found her yet. I reckon some other boat picked her up. But this is the fellow on the cotton house.”

Again the Warden and the two officers looked at the third man, at the gaunt, unshaven wild face in which an old terror, an old blending of fear and impotence and rage still lingered. “He never came for you?” the Warden said. “You never saw him?”

“Never nobody came for me,” the refugee said. He began to tremble though at first he spoke quietly enough. “I set there on that sonabitching cottonhouse, expecting hit to go any minute. I saw that launch and them boats come up and they never had no room for me. Full of bastard niggers and one of them setting there playing a guitar but there wasn’t no room for me. A guitar!” he cried; now he began to scream, trembling, slavering, his face twitching and jerking. “Room for a bastard nigger guitar but not for me—”

“Steady now,” the Warden said. “Steady now.”

“Give him a drink,” one of the officers said. The Warden poured the drink. The deputy handed it to the refugee, who took the glass in both jerking hands and tried to raise it to his mouth. They watched him for perhaps twenty seconds, then the deputy took the glass from him and held it to his lips while he gulped, though even then a thin trickle ran from each corner of his mouth, into the stubble on his chin.

“So we picked him and—” the deputy called the plump convict’s name now “—both up just before dark and come on in. But that other fellow is gone.”

“Yes,” the Warden said. “Well. Here I haven’t lost a prisoner in ten years, and now, like this—I’m sending you back to the Farm tomorrow. Have his family notified, and his discharge papers filled out at once.”

“All right,” the deputy said. “And listen, chief. He wasn’t a bad fellow and maybe he never had no business in that boat. Only he did say he could paddle one. Listen. Suppose I write on his discharge, Drowned while trying to save lives in the great flood of nineteen twenty-seven, and send it down for the Governor to sign it. It will be something nice for his folks to have, to hang on the wall when neighbors come in or something. Maybe they will even give his folks a cash bonus because after all they sent him to the Farm to raise cotton, not to fool around in a boat in a flood.”

“All right,” the Warden said. “I’ll see about it. The main thing is to get his name off the books as dead before some politician tries to collect his food allowance.”

“All right,” the deputy said. He turned and herded his companions out. In the drizzling darkness again he said to the plump convict: “Well, your partner beat you. He’s free. He’s done served his time out but you’ve got a right far piece to go yet.”

“Yah,” the plump convict said. “Free. He can have it.”

As the short convict had testified, the tall one, when he returned to the surface, still retained what the short one called the paddle. He clung to it, not instinctively against the time when he would be back inside he boat and would need it, because for a time he did not believe he would ever regain the skiff or anything else that would support him, but because he did not have time to think about turning it loose. Things had moved too fast for him. He had not been warned, he had felt the first snatching tug of the current, he had seen the skiff begin to spin and his companion vanish violently upward like in a translation out of Isaiah, then he himself was in the water, struggling against the drag of the paddle which he did not know he still held each time he fought back to the surface and grasped at the spinning skiff which at one instant was ten feet away and the next poised above his head as though about to brain him, until at last he grasped the stern, the drag of his body becoming a rudder to the skiff, the two of them, man and boat and with the paddle perpendicular above them like a jackstaff, vanishing from the view of the short convict (who had vanished from that of the tall one with the same celerity though in a vertical direction) like a tableau snatched offstage intact with violent and incredible speed.

He was now in the channel of a slough, a bayou, in which until today no current had run probably since the old subterranean outrage which had created the country. There was plenty of current in it now though; from his trough behind the stem he seemed to see the trees and sky rushing past with vertiginous speed, looking down at him between the gouts of cold yellow in lugubrious and mournful amazement. But they were fixed and secure in something; he thought of that, he remembered in an instant of despairing rage the firm earth fixed and founded strong and cemented fast and stable forever by the generations of laborious sweat, somewhere beneath him, beyond the reach of his feet, when, and again without warning, the stern of the skiff struck him a stunning blow across the bridge of his nose. The instinct which had caused him to cling to it now caused him to fling the paddle into the boat in order to grasp the gunwale with both hands just as the skiff pivoted and spun away again. With both hands free he now dragged himself over the stern and lay prone on his face, streaming with blood and water and panting, not with exhaustion but with that furious rage which is terror’s aftermath.

But he had to get up at once because he believed he had come much faster (and so farther) than he had. So he rose, out of the watery scarlet puddle in which he had lain, streaming, the soaked denim heavy as iron on his limbs, the black hair plastered to his skull, the blood-infused water streaking his jumper, and dragged his forearm gingerly and hurriedly across his lower face and glanced at it then grasped the paddle and began to try to swing the skiff back upstream. It did not even occur to him that he did not know where his companion was, in which tree among all which he had passed or might pass. He did not even speculate on that for the reason that he knew so incontestably that the other was upstream from him, and after his recent experience the mere connotation of the term upstream carried a sense of such violence and force and speed that the conception of it as other than a straight line was something which the intelligence, reason, simply refused to harbor, like the notion of a rifle bullet the width of a cotton field.

The bow began to swing back upstream. It turned readily, it outpaced the aghast and outraged instant in which he realised it was swinging far too easily, it had swung on over the arc and lay broadside to the current and began again that vicious spinning while he sat, his teeth bared in his bloody streaming face while his spent arms flailed the impotent paddle at the water, that innocent-appearing medium which at one time had held him in iron-like and shifting convolutions like an anaconda yet which now seemed to offer no more resistance to the thrust of his urge and need than so much air, like air; the boat which had threatened him and at last actually struck him in the face with the shocking violence of a mule’s hoof now seemed to poise weightless upon it like a thistle bloom, spinning like a wind vane while he flailed at the water and thought of, envisioned, his companion safe, inactive and at ease in the tree with nothing to do but wait, musing with impotent and terrified fury upon that arbitrariness of human affairs which had abrogated to the one the secure tree and to the other the hysterical and unmanageable boat for the very reason that it knew that he alone of the two of them would make any attempt to return and rescue his companion.

The skiff had paid off and now ran with the current again. It seemed again to spring from immobility into incredible speed, and he thought he must already be miles away from where his companion had quitted him, though actually he had merely described a big circle since getting back into the skiff, and the object (a clump of cypress trees choked by floating logs and debris) which the skiff was now about to strike was the same one it had careened into before when the stern had struck him. He didn’t know this because he had not yet ever looked higher than the bow of the boat. He didn’t look higher now, he just saw that he was going to strike; he seemed to feel run through the very insentient fabric of the skiff a current of eager gleeful vicious incorrigible wilfulness; and he who had never ceased to flail at the bland treacherous water with what he had believed to be the limit of his strength now from somewhere, some ultimate absolute reserve, produced a final measure of endurance, will to endure which adumbrated mere muscle and nerves, continuing to flail the paddle right up to the instant of striking, completing one last reach thrust and recover out of pure desperate reflex, as a man slipping on ice reaches for his hat and money-pocket, as the skiff struck and hurled him once more flat on his face in the bottom of it.

This time he did not get up at once. He lay flat on his face, slightly spread-eagled and in an attitude almost peaceful, a kind of abject meditation. He would have to get up sometime, he knew that, just as all life consists of having to get up sooner or later and then having to lie down again sooner or later after a while. And he was not exactly exhausted and he was not particularly without hope and he did not especially dread getting up. It merely seemed to him that he had accidentally been caught in a situation in which time and environment, not himself, was mesmerised; he was being toyed with by a current of water going nowhere, beneath a day which would wane toward no evening; when it was done with him it would spew him back into the comparatively safe world he had been snatched violently out of and in the meantime it did not much matter just what he did or did not do. So he lay on his face, now not only feeling but hearing the strong quiet rustling of the current on the underside of the planks, for a while longer. Then he raised his head and this time touched his palm gingerly to his face and looked at the blood again, then he sat up onto his heels and leaning over the gunwale he pinched his nostrils between thumb and finger and expelled a gout of blood and was in the act of wiping his fingers on his thigh when a voice slightly above his line of sight said quietly, “It’s taken you a while,” and he who up to this moment had had neither reason nor time to raise his eyes higher than the bows looked up and saw, sitting in a tree and looking at him, a woman. She was not ten feet away. She sat on the lowest limb of one of the trees holding the jam he had grounded on, in a calico wrapper and an army private’s tunic and a sunbonnet, a woman whom he did not even bother to examine since that first startled glance had been ample to reveal to him all the generations of her life and background, who could have been his sister if he had a sister, his wife if he had not entered the penitentiary at an age scarcely out of adolescence and some years younger than that at which even his prolific and monogamous kind married—a woman who sat clutching the trunk of the tree, her stockingless feet in a pair of man’s unlaced brogans less than a yard from the water, who was very probably somebody’s sister and quite certainly (or certainly should have been) somebody’s wife, though this too he had entered the penitentiary too young to have had more than mere theoretical female experience to discover yet. “I thought for a minute you wasn’t aiming to come back.”

“Come back?”

“After the first time. After you run into this brush pile the first time and got into the boat and went on.” He looked about, touching his face tenderly again; it could very well be the same place where the boat had hit him in the face.

“Yah,” he said. “I’m here now though.”

“Could you maybe get the boat a little closer? I taken a right sharp strain getting up here; maybe I better . . .” He was not listening; he had just discovered that the paddle was gone; this time when the skiff hurled him forward he had flung the paddle not into it but beyond it. “It’s right there in them brush tops,” the woman said. “You can get it. Here. Catch a holt of this.” It was a grapevine. It had grown up into the tree and the flood had torn the roots loose. She had taken a turn with it about her upper body; she now loosed it and swung it out until he could grasp it. Holding to the end of the vine he warped the skiff around the end of the jam, picking up the paddle, and warped the skiff on beneath the limb and held it and now he watched her move, gather herself heavily and carefully to descend—that heaviness which was not painful but just excruciatingly careful, that profound and almost lethargic awkwardness which added nothing to the sum of that first aghast amazement which had served already for the catafalque of invincible dream since even in durance he had continued (and even with the old avidity, even though they had caused his downfall) to consume the impossible pulp-printed fables carefully censored and as carefully smuggled into the penitentiary; and who to say what Helen, what living Garbo, he had not dreamed of rescuing from what craggy pinnacle or dragoned keep when he and his companion embarked in the skiff. He watched her, he made no further effort to help her beyond holding the skiff savagely steady while she lowered herself from the limb—the entire body, the deformed swell of belly bulging the calico, suspended by its arms, thinking, And this is what I get. This, out of all the female meat that walks, is what I have to be caught in a runaway boat with.

“Where’s that cottonhouse?” he said.


“With that fellow on it. The other one.”

“I dont know. It’s a right smart of cottonhouses around here. With folks on them too, I reckon.” She was examining him. “You’re bloody as a hog,” she said. “You look like a convict.”

“Yah,” he said, snarled. “I feel like I done already been hung. Well, I got to pick up my pardner and then find that cottonhouse.” He cast off. That is, he released his hold on the vine. That was all he had to do, for even while the bow of the skiff hung high on the log jam and even while he held it by the vine in the comparatively dead water behind the jam, he felt steadily and constantly the whisper, the strong purring power of the water just one inch beyond the frail planks on which he squatted and which, as soon as he released the vine, took charge of the skiff not with one powerful clutch but in a series of touches light, tentative, and catlike; he realised now that he had entertained a sort of foundationless hope that the added weight might make the skiff more controllable. During the first moment or two he had a wild (and still foundationless) belief that it had; he had got the head upstream and managed to hold it so by terrific exertion continued even after he discovered that they were travelling straight enough but stern-first and continued somehow even after the bow began to wear away and swing: the old irresistible movement which he knew well by now, too well to fight against it, so that he let the bow swing on downstream with the hope of utilising the skiff’s own momentum to bring it through the full circle and so upstream again, the skiff travelling broadside then bow-first then broadside again, diagonally across the channel, toward the other wall of submerged trees; it began to flee beneath him with terrific speed, they were in an eddy but did not know it; he had no time to draw conclusions or even wonder; he crouched, his teeth bared in his blood-caked and swollen face, his lungs bursting, flailing at the water while the trees stooped hugely down at him. The skiff struck, spun, struck again; the woman half lay in the bow, clutching the gunwales, as if she were trying to crouch behind her own pregnancy; he banged now not at the water but at the living sapblooded wood with the paddle, his desire now not to go anywhere, reach any destination, but just to keep the skiff from beating itself to fragments against the tree trunks. Then something exploded, this time against the back of his head, and stooping trees and dizzy water, the woman’s face and all, fled together and vanished in bright soundless flash and glare.

An hour later the skiff came slowly up an old logging road and so out of the bottom, the forest, and into (or onto) a cottonfield—a gray and limitless desolation now free of turmoil, broken only by a thin line of telephone poles like a wading millipede. The woman was now paddling, steadily and deliberately, with that curious lethargic care, while the convict squatted, his head between his knees, trying to stanch the fresh and apparently inexhaustible flow of blood from his nose with handfuls of water. The woman ceased paddling, the skiff drifted on, slowing, while she looked about. “We’re done out,” she said.

The convict raised his head and also looked about. “Out where?”

“I thought maybe you might know.”

“I dont even know where I used to be. Even if I knowed which way was north, I wouldn’t know if that was where I wanted to go.” He cupped another handful of water to his face and lowered his hand and regarded the resulting crimson marbling on his palm, not with dejection, not with concern, but with a kind of sardonic and vicious bemusement. The woman watched the back of his head.

“We got to get somewhere.”

“Dont I know it? A fellow on a cottonhouse. Another in a tree. And now that thing in your lap.”

“It wasn’t due yet. Maybe it was having to climb that tree quick yesterday, and having to set in it all night. I’m doing the best I can. But we better get somewhere soon.”

“Yah,” the convict said. “I thought I wanted to get somewhere too and I aint had no luck at it. You pick out a place to get to now and we’ll try yours. Gimme that oar.” The woman passed him the paddle. The boat was a double-ender; he had only to turn around.

“Which way you fixing to go?” the woman said.

“Never you mind that. You just keep on holding on.” He began to paddle, on across the cottonfield. It began to rain again, though not hard at first. “Yah,” he said. “Ask the boat. I been in it since breakfast and I aint never knowed, where I aimed to go or where I was going either.”

That was about one oclock. Toward the end of the afternoon the skiff (they were in a channel of some sort again, they had been in it for some time; they had got into it before they knew it and too late to get out again, granted there had been any reason to get out, as, to the convict anyway, there was certainly none and the fact that their speed had increased again was reason enough to stay in it) shot out upon a broad expanse of debris-filled water which the convict recognised as a river and, from its size, the Yazoo River though it was little enough he had seen of this country which he had not quitted for so much as one single day in the last seven years of his life. What he did not know was that it was now running backward. So as soon as the drift of the skiff indicated the set of the current, he began to paddle in that direction which he believed to be downstream, where he knew there were towns—Yazoo City, and as a last resort, Vicksburg, if his luck was that bad, if not, smaller towns whose names he did not know but where there would be people, houses, something, anything he might reach and surrender his charge to and turn his back on her forever, on all pregnant and female life forever and return to that monastic existence of shotguns and shackles where he would be secure from it. Now, with the imminence of habitations, release from her, he did not even hate her. When he looked upon the swelling and unmanageable body before him it seemed to him that it was not the woman at all but rather a separate demanding threatening inert yet living mass of which both he and she were equally victims; thinking, as he had been for the last three or four hours, of that minute’s—nay, second’s—aberration of eye or hand which would suffice to precipitate her into the water to be dragged down to death by that senseless millstone which in its turn would not even have to feel agony, he no longer felt any glow of revenge toward her as its custodian, he felt sorry for her as he would for the living timber in a barn which had to be burned to rid itself of vermin.

He paddled on, helping the current, steadily and strongly, with a calculated husbandry of effort, toward what he believed was downstream, towns, people, something to stand upon, while from time to time the woman raised herself to bail the accumulated rain from the skiff. It was raining steadily now though still not hard, still without passion, the sky, the day itself dissolving without grief; the skiff moved in a nimbus, an aura of gray gauze which merged almost without demarcation with the roiling spittle-frothed debris-choked water. Now the day, the light, definitely began to end and the convict permitted himself an extra notch or two of effort because it suddenly seemed to him that the speed of the skiff had lessened. This was actually the case though the convict did not know it. He merely took it as a phenomenon of the increasing obfuscation, or at most as a result of the long day’s continuous effort with no food, complicated by the ebbing and fluxing phases of anxiety and impotent rage at his absolutely gratuitous predicament. So he stepped up his stroke a beat or so, not from alarm but on the contrary, since he too had received that lift from the mere presence of a known stream, a river known by its ineradicable name to generations of men who had been drawn to live beside it as man always has been drawn to dwell beside water, even before he had a name for water and fire, drawn to the living water, the course of his destiny and his actual physical appearance rigidly coerced and postulated by it. So he was not alarmed. He paddled on, upstream without knowing it, unaware that all the water which for forty hours now had been pouring through the levee break to the north was somewhere ahead of him, on its way back to the River.

It was full dark now. That is, night had completely come, the gray dissolving sky had vanished, yet as though in perverse ratio surface visibility had sharpened, as though the light which the rain of the afternoon had washed out of the air had gathered upon the water as the rain itself had done, so that the yellow flood spread on before him now with a quality almost phosphorescent, right up to the instant where vision ceased. The darkness in fact had its advantages; he could now stop seeing the rain. He and his garments had been wet for more than twenty-four hours now so he had long since stopped feeling it, and now that he could no longer see it either it had in a certain sense ceased for him. Also, he now had to make no effort even not to see the swell of his passenger’s belly. So he was paddling on, strongly and steadily, not alarmed and not concerned but just exasperated because he had not yet begun to see any reflection on the clouds which would indicate the city or cities which he believed he was approaching but which were actually now miles behind him, when he heard a sound. He did not know what it was because he had never heard it before and he would never be expected to hear such again since it is not given to every man to hear such at all and to none to hear it more than once in his life. And he was not alarmed now either because there was not time, for although the visibility ahead, for all its clarity, did not extend very far, yet in the next instant to the hearing he was also seeing something such as he had never seen before. This was that the sharp line where the phosphorescent water met the darkness was now about ten feet higher than it had been an instant before and that it was curled forward upon itself like a sheet of dough being rolled out for a pudding. It reared, stooping; the crest of it swirled like the mane of a galloping horse and, phosphorescent too, fretted and flickered like fire. And while the woman huddled in the bows, aware or not aware the convict did not know which, he (the convict), his swollen and blood-streaked face gaped in an expression of aghast and incredulous amazement, continued to paddle directly into it. Again he simply had not had time to order his rhythm-hypnotised muscles to cease. He continued to paddle though the skiff had ceased to move forward at all but seemed to be hanging in space while the paddle still reached thrust recovered and reached again; now instead of space the skiff became abruptly surrounded by a welter of fleeing debris—planks, small buildings, the bodies of drowned yet antic animals, entire trees leaping and diving like porpoises above which the skiff seemed to hover in weightless and airy indecision like a bird above a fleeing countryside, undecided where to light or whether to light at all, while the convict squatted in it still going through the motions of paddling, waiting for an opportunity to scream. He never found it. For an instant the skiff seemed to stand erect on its stern and then shoot scrabbling and scrambling up the curling wall of water like a cat, and soared on above the licking crest itself and hung cradled into the high actual air in the limbs of a tree, from which bower of new-leafed boughs and branches the convict, like a bird in its nest and still waiting his chance to scream and still going through the motions of paddling though he no longer even had the paddle now, looked down upon a world turned to furious motion and in incredible retrograde.

Some time about midnight, accompanied by a rolling cannonade of thunder and lightning like a battery going into action, as though some forty hours’ constipation of the elements, the firmament itself, were discharging in clapping and glaring salute to the ultimate acquiescence to desperate and furious motion, and still leading its charging welter of dead cows and mules and outhouses and cabins and hencoops, the skiff passed Vicksburg. The convict didn’t know it. He wasn’t looking high enough above the water; he still squatted, clutching the gunwales and glaring at the yellow turmoil about him out of which entire trees, the sharp gables of houses, the long mournful heads of mules which he fended off with a splintered length of plank snatched from he knew not where in passing (and which seemed to glare reproachfully back at him with sightless eyes, in limber-lipped and incredulous amazement) rolled up and then down again, the skiff now travelling forward now sideways now sternward, sometimes in the water, sometimes riding for yards upon the roofs of houses and trees and even upon the backs of the mules as though even in death they were not to escape that burden-bearing doom with which their eunuch race was cursed. But he didn’t see Vicksburg; the skiff, travelling at express speed, was in a seething gut between soaring and dizzy banks with a glare of light above them but he did not see it; he saw the flotsam ahead of him divide violently and begin to climb upon itself, mounting, and he was sucked through the resulting gap too fast to recognise it as the trestling of a railroad bridge; for a horrible moment the skiff seemed to hang in static indecision before the looming flank of a steamboat as though undecided whether to climb over it or dive under it, then a hard icy wind filled with the smell and taste and sense of wet and boundless desolation blew upon him; the skiff made one long bounding lunge as the convict’s native state, in a final paroxysm, regurgitated him onto the wild bosom of the Father of Waters.

This is how he told about it seven weeks later, sitting in new bed-ticking garments, shaved and with his hair cut again, on his bunk in the barracks:

During the next three or four hours after the thunder and lightning had spent itself the skiff ran in pitch streaming darkness upon a roiling expanse which, even if he could have seen, apparently had no boundaries. Wild and invisible, it tossed and heaved about and beneath the boat, ridged with dirty phosphorescent foam and filled with a debris of destruction—objects nameless and enormous and invisible which struck and slashed at the skiff and whirled on. He did not know he was now upon the River. At that time he would have refused to believe it, even if he had known. Yesterday he had known he was in a channel by the regularity of the spacing between the bordering trees. Now, since even by daylight he could have seen no boundaries, the last place under the sun (or the streaming sky rather) he would have suspected himself to be would have been a river; if he had pondered at all about his present whereabouts, about the geography beneath him, he would merely have taken himself to be travelling at dizzy and inexplicable speed above the largest cottonfield in the world; if he who yesterday had known he was in a river, had accepted that fact in good faith and earnest, then had seen that river turn without warning and rush back upon him with furious and deadly intent like a frenzied stallion in a lane—if he had suspected for one second that the wild and limitless expanse on which he now found himself was a river, consciousness would simply have refused; he would have fainted.

When daylight—a gray and ragged dawn filled with driving scud between icy rain-squalls—came and he could see again, he knew he was in no cottonfield. He knew that the wild water on which the skiff tossed and fled flowed above no soil tamely trod by man, behind the straining and surging buttocks of a mule. That was when it occurred to him that its present condition was no phenomenon of a decade, but that the intervening years during which it consented to bear upon its placid and sleepy bosom the frail mechanicals of man’s clumsy contriving was the phenomenon and this the norm and the river was now doing what it liked to do, had waited patiently the ten years in order to do, as a mule will work for you ten years for the privilege of kicking you once. And he also learned something else about fear too, something he had even failed to discover on that other occasion when he was really afraid—that three or four seconds of that night in his youth while he looked down the twice-flashing pistol barrel of the terrified mail clerk before the clerk could be persuaded that his (the convict’s) pistol would not shoot: that if you just held on long enough a time would come in fear after which it would no longer be agony at all but merely a kind of horrible outrageous itching, as after you have been burned bad.

He did not have to paddle now, he just steered (who had been without food for twenty-four hours now and without any sleep to speak of for fifty) while the skiff sped on across that boiling desolation where he had long since begun to not dare believe he could possibly be where he could not doubt he was, trying with his fragment of splintered plank merely to keep the skiff intact and afloat among the houses and trees and dead animals (the entire towns, stores, residences, parks and farmyards, which leaped and played about him like fish), not trying to reach any destination, just trying to keep the skiff afloat until he did. He wanted so little. He wanted nothing for himself. He just wanted to get rid of the woman, the belly, and he was trying to do that in the right way, not for himself, but for her. He could have put her back into another tree at any time—

“Or you could have jumped out of the boat and let her and it drown,” the plump convict said. “Then they could have given you the ten years for escaping and then hung you for the murder and charged the boat to your folks.”

“Yah,” the tall convict said.—But he had not done that. He wanted to do it the right way, find somebody, anybody he could surrender her to, something solid he could set her down on and then jump back into the river, if that would please anyone. That was all he wanted—just to come to something, anything. That didn’t seem like a great deal to ask. And he couldn’t do it. He told how the skiff fled on—

“Didn’t you pass nobody?” the plump convict said. “No steamboat, nothing?”

“I dont know,” the tall one said.—while he tried merely to keep it afloat, until the darkness thinned and lifted and revealed—

“Darkness?” the plump convict said. “I thought you said it was already daylight.”

“Yah,” the tall one said. He was rolling a cigarette, pouring the tobacco carefully from a new sack, into the creased paper. “This was another one. They had several while I was gone.”—the skiff to be moving still rapidly up a winding corridor bordered by drowned trees which the convict recognised again to be a river running again in the direction that, until two days ago, had been upstream. He was not exactly warned through instinct that this one, like that of two days ago, was in reverse. He would not say that he now believed himself to be in the same river, though he would not have been surprised to find that he did believe this, existing now, as he did and had and apparently was to continue for an unnamed period, in a state in which he was toy and pawn on a vicious and inflammable geography. He merely realised that he was in a river again, with all the subsequent inferences of a comprehensible, even if not familiar, portion of the earth’s surface. Now he believed that all he had to do would be to paddle far enough and he would come to something horizontal and above water even if not dry and perhaps even populated; and, if fast enough, in time, and that his only other crying urgency was to refrain from looking at the woman who, as vision, the incontrovertible and apparently inescapable presence of his passenger, returned with dawn, had ceased to be a human being and (you could add twenty-four more hours to the first twenty-four and the first fifty now, even counting the hen. It was dead, drowned, caught by one wing under a shingle on a roof which had rolled momentarily up beside the skiff yesterday and he had eaten some of it raw though the woman would not) had become instead one single inert monstrous sentient womb from which, he now believed, if he could only turn his gaze away and keep it away, would disappear, and if he could only keep his gaze from pausing again at the spot it had occupied, would not return. That’s what he was doing this time when he discovered the wave was coming.

He didn’t know how he discovered it was coming back. He heard no sound, it was nothing felt nor seen. He did not even believe that finding the skiff to be now in slack water—that is, that the motion of the current which, whether right or wrong, had at least been horizontal, had now stopped that and assumed a vertical direction—was sufficient to warn him. Perhaps it was just an invincible and almost fanatic faith in the inventiveness and innate viciousness of that medium on which his destiny was now cast, apparently forever; a sudden conviction far beyond either horror or surprise that now was none too soon for it to prepare to do whatever it was it intended doing. So he whirled the skiff, spun it on its heel like a running horse, whereupon, reversed, he could not even distinguish the very channel he had come up. He did not know whether he simply could not see it or if it had vanished some time ago and he not aware at the time; whether the river had become lost in a drowned world or if the world had become drowned in one limitless river. So now he could not tell if he were running directly before the wave or quartering across its line of charge; all he could do was keep that sense of swiftly accumulating ferocity behind him and paddle as fast as his spent and now numb muscles could be driven, and try not to look at the woman, to wrench his gaze from her and keep it away until he reached something flat and above water. So, gaunt, hollow-eyed, striving and wrenching almost physically at his eyes as if they were two of those suction-tipped rubber arrows shot from the toy gun of a child, his spent muscles obeying not will now but that attenuation beyond mere exhaustion which, mesmeric, can continue easier than cease, he once more drove the skiff full tilt into something it could not pass and, once more hurled violently forward onto his hands and knees, crouching, he glared with his wild swollen face up at the man with the shotgun and said in a harsh, croaking voice: “Vicksburg? Where’s Vicksburg?”

Even when he tried to tell it, even after the seven weeks and he safe, secure, riveted warranted and doubly guaranteed by the ten years they had added to his sentence for attempted escape, something of the old hysteric incredulous outrage came back into his face, his voice, his speech. He never did even get on the other boat. He told how he clung to a strake (it was a dirty unpainted shanty boat with a drunken rake of tin stove pipe, it had been moving when he struck it and apparently it had not even changed course even though the three people on it must have been watching him all the while—a second man, barefoot and with matted hair and beard also at the steering sweep, and then—he did not know how long—a woman leaning in the door, in a filthy assortment of men’s garments, watching him too with the same cold speculation) being dragged violently along, trying to state and explain his simple (and to him at least) reasonable desire and need; telling it, trying to tell it, he could feel again the old unforgettable affronting like an ague fit as he watched the abortive tobacco rain steadily and faintly from between his shaking hands and then the paper itself part with a thin dry snapping report:

“Burn my clothes?” the convict cried. “Burn them?”

“How in hell do you expect to escape in them billboards?” the man with the shotgun said. He (the convict) tried to tell it, tried to explain as he had tried to explain not to the three people on the boat alone but to the entire circumambience—desolate water and forlorn trees and sky—not for justification because he needed none and knew that his hearers, the other convicts, required none from him, but rather as, on the point of exhaustion, he might have picked dreamily and incredulously at a suffocation. He told the man with the gun how he and his partner had been given the boat and told to pick up a man and a woman, how he had lost his partner and failed to find the man, and now all in the world he wanted was something flat to leave the woman on until he could find an officer, a sheriff. He thought of home, the place where he had lived almost since childhood, his friends of years whose ways he knew and who knew his ways, the familiar fields where he did work he had learned to do well and to like, the mules with characters he knew and respected as he knew and respected the characters of certain men; he thought of the barracks at night, with screens against the bugs in summer and good stoves in winter and someone to supply the fuel and the food too; the Sunday ball games and the picture shows—things which, with the exception of the ball games, he had never known before. But most of all, his own character (Two years ago they had offered to make a trusty of him. He would no longer need to plow or feed stock, he would only follow those who did with a loaded gun, but he declined. “I reckon I’ll stick to plowing,” he said, absolutely without humor. “I done already tried to use a gun one time too many.”) his good name, his responsibility not only toward those who were responsible toward him but to himself, his own honor of doing what was asked of him, his pride in being able to do it, no matter what it was. He thought of this and listened to the man with the gun talking about escape and it seemed to him that, hanging there, being dragged violently along (it was here he said that he first noticed the goats’ beards of moss in the trees, though it could have been there for several days so far as he knew. It just happened that he first noticed it here.) that he would simply burst.

“Cant you get it into your head that the last thing I want to do is run away?” he cried. “You can set there with that gun and watch me; I give you fair lief. All I want is to put this woman—”

“And I told you she could come aboard,” the man with the gun said in his level voice. “But there aint no room on no boat of mine for nobody hunting a sheriff in no kind of clothes, let alone a penitentiary suit.”

“When he steps aboard, knock him in the head with the gun barrel,” the man at the sweep said. “He’s drunk.”

“He aint coming aboard,” the man with the gun said. “He’s crazy.”

Then the woman spoke. She didn’t move, leaning in the door, in a pair of faded and patched and filthy overalls like the two men: “Give them some grub and tell them to get out of here.” She moved, she crossed the deck and looked down at the convict’s companion with her cold sullen face. “How much more time have you got?”

“It wasn’t due till next month,” the woman in the boat said. “But I—” The woman in overalls turned to the man with the gun.

“Give them some grub,” she said. But the man with the gun was still looking down at the woman in the boat.

“Come on,” he said to the convict. “Put her aboard, and beat it.”

“And what’ll happen to you,” the woman in overalls said, “when you try to turn her over to an officer. When you lay alongside a sheriff and the sheriff asks you who you are?” Still the man with the gun didn’t even look at her. He hardly even shifted the gun across his arm as he struck the woman across the face with the back of his other hand, hard. “You son of a bitch,” she said. Still the man with the gun did not even look at her.

“Well?” he said to the convict.

“Dont you see I cant?” the convict cried. “Cant you see that?”

Now, he said, he gave up. He was doomed. That is, he knew now that he had been doomed from the very start never to get rid of her, just as the ones who sent him out with the skiff knew that he never would actually give up; when he recognised one of the objects which the woman in overalls was hurling into the skiff to be a can of condensed milk, he believed it to be a presage, gratuitous and irrevocable as a death-notice over the telegraph, that he was not even to find a flat stationary surface in time for the child to be born on it. So he told how he held the skiff alongside the shanty boat while the first tentative toying of the second wave made up beneath him, while the woman in overalls passed back and forth between house and rail, flinging the food—the hunk of salt meat, the ragged and filthy quilt, the scorched lumps of cold bread which she poured into the skiff from a heaped dishpan like so much garbage—while he clung to the strake against the mounting pull of the current, the new wave which for the moment he had forgotten because he was still trying to state the incredible simplicity of his desire and need until the man with the gun (the only one of the three who wore shoes) began to stamp at his hands, he snatching his hands away one at a time to avoid the heavy shoes, then grasping the rail again until the man with the gun kicked at his face, he flinging himself sideways to avoid the shoe and so breaking his hold on the rail, his weight canting the skiff off at a tangent on the increasing current so that it began to leave the shanty boat behind and he paddling again now, violently, as a man hurries toward the precipice for which he knows at last he is doomed, looking back at the other boat, the three faces sullen derisive and grim and rapidly diminishing across the widening water and at last, apoplectic, suffocating with the intolerable fact not that he had been refused but that he had been refused so little, had wanted so little, asked for so little, yet there had been demanded of him in return the one price out of all breath which (they must have known) if he could have paid it, he would not have been where he was, asking what he asked, raising the paddle and shaking it and screaming curses back at them even after the shotgun flashed and the charge went scuttering past along the water to one side.

So he hung there, he said, shaking the paddle and howling, when suddenly he remembered that other wave, the second wall of water full of houses and dead mules building up behind him back in the swamp. So he quit yelling then and went back to paddling. He was not trying to outrun it. He just knew from experience that when it overtook him, he would have to travel in the same direction it was moving in anyway, whether he wanted to or not, and when it did overtake him, he would begin to move too fast to stop, no matter what places he might come to where he could leave the woman, land her in time. Time: that was his itch now, so his only chance was to stay ahead of it as long as he could and hope to reach something before it struck. So he went on, driving the skiff with muscles which had been too tired so long they had quit feeling it, as when a man has had bad luck for so long that he ceases to believe it is even bad, let alone luck. Even when he ate—the scorched lumps the size of baseballs and the weight and durability of cannel coal even after having lain in the skiff’s bilge where the shanty boat woman had thrown them—the iron-like lead-heavy objects which no man would have called bread outside of the crusted and scorched pan in which they had cooked—it was with one hand, begrudging even that from the paddle.

He tried to tell that too—that day while the skiff fled on among the bearded trees while every now and then small quiet tentative exploratory feelers would come up from the wave behind and toy for a moment at the skiff, light and curious, then go on with a faint hissing sighing, almost a chuckling, sound, the skiff going on, driving on with nothing to see but trees and water and solitude: until after a while it no longer seemed to him that he was trying to put space and distance behind him or shorten space and distance ahead but that both he and the wave were now hanging suspended simultaneous and unprogressing in pure time, upon a dreamy desolation in which he paddled on not from any hope even to reach anything at all but merely to keep intact what little of distance the length of the skiff provided between himself and the inert and inescapable mass of female meat before him; then night and the skiff rushing on, fast since any speed over anything unknown and invisible is too fast, with nothing before him and behind him the outrageous idea of a volume of moving water toppling forward, its crest frothed and shredded like fangs, and then dawn again (another of those dreamlike alterations day to dark then back to day again with that quality truncated, anachronic and unreal as the waxing and waning of lights in a theatre scene) and the skiff emerging now with the woman no longer supine beneath the shrunken soaked private’s coat but sitting bolt upright, gripping the gunwales with both hands, her eyes closed and her lower lip caught between her teeth and he driving the splintered board furiously now, glaring at her out of his wild swollen sleepless face and crying, croaking, “Hold on! For God’s sake hold on!”

“I’m trying to,” she said. “But hurry! Hurry!” He told it, the unbelievable: hurry, hasten: the man falling from a cliff being told to catch onto something and save himself; the very telling of it emerging shadowy and burlesque, ludicrous, comic and mad, from the ague of unbearable forgetting with a quality more dreamily furious than any fable behind proscenium lights:

He was in a basin now— “A basin?” the plump convict said. “That’s what you wash in.”

“All right,” the tall one said, harshly, above his hands. “I did.” With a supreme effort he stilled them long enough to release the two bits of cigarette paper and watched them waft in light fluttering indecision to the floor between his feet, holding his hands motionless even for a moment longer—a basin, a broad peaceful yellow sea which had an abruptly and curiously ordered air, giving him, even at that moment, the impression that it was accustomed to water even if not total submersion; he even remembered the name of it, told to him two or three weeks later by someone: Atchafalaya—

“Louisiana?” the plump convict said. “You mean you were clean out of Mississippi? Hell fire.” He stared at the tall one. “Shucks,” he said. “That aint but just across from Vicksburg.”

“They never named any Vicksburg across from where I was,” the tall one said. “It was Baton Rouge they named.” And now he began to talk about a town, a little neat white portrait town nestling among enormous very green trees, appearing suddenly in the telling as it probably appeared in actuality, abrupt and airy and miragelike and incredibly serene before him behind a scattering of boats moored to a line of freight cars standing flush to the doors in water. And now he tried to tell that too: how he stood waist-deep in water for a moment looking back and down at the skiff in which the woman half lay, her eyes still closed, her knuckles white on the gunwales and a tiny thread of blood creeping down her chin from her chewed lip, and he looking down at her in a kind of furious desperation.

“How far will I have to walk?” she said.

“I dont know, I tell you!” he cried. “But it’s land somewhere yonder! It’s land, houses.”

“If I try to move, it wont even be born inside a boat,” she said. “You’ll have to get closer.”

“Yes,” he cried, wild, desperate, incredulous. “Wait. I’ll go and surrender, then they will have—” He didn’t finish, wait to finish; he told that too: himself splashing, stumbling, trying to run, sobbing and gasping; now he saw it—another loading platform standing above the yellow flood, the khaki figures on it as before, identical, the same; he said how the intervening days since that first innocent morning telescoped, vanished as if they had never been, the two contiguous succeeding instants (succeeding? simultaneous) and he transported across no intervening space but merely turned in his own footsteps, plunging, splashing, his arms raised, croaking harshly. He heard the startled shout, “There’s one of them!”, the command, the clash of equipment, the alarmed cry: “There he goes! There he goes!”

“Yes!” he cried, running, plunging, “here I am! Here! Here!” running on, into the first scattered volley, stopping among the bullets, waving his arms, shrieking, “I want to surrender! I want to surrender!” watching not in terror but in amazed and absolutely unbearable outrage as a squatting clump of the khaki figures parted and he saw the machine gun, the blunt thick muzzle slant and drop and probe toward him and he still screaming in his hoarse crow’s voice, “I want to surrender! Cant you hear me?” continuing to scream even as he whirled and plunged splashing, ducking, went completely under and heard the bullets going thuck-thuck-thuck on the water above him and he scrabbling still on the bottom, still trying to scream even before he regained his feet and still all submerged save his plunging unmistakable buttocks, the outraged screaming bubbling from his mouth and about his face since he merely wanted to surrender. Then he was comparatively screened, out of range, though not for long. That is (he didn’t tell how nor where) there was a moment in which he paused, breathed for a second before running again, the course back to the skiff open for the time being though he could still hear the shouts behind him and now and then a shot, and he panting, sobbing, a long savage tear in the flesh of one hand, got when and how he did not know, and he wasting precious breath, speaking to no one now any more than the scream of the dying rabbit is addressed to any mortal ear but rather an indictment of all breath and its folly and suffering, its infinite capacity for folly and pain, which seems to be its only immortality: “All in the world I want is just to surrender.”

He returned to the skiff and got in and took up his splintered plank. And now when he told this, despite the fury of element which climaxed it, it (the telling) became quite simple; he now even creased another cigarette paper between fingers which did not tremble at all and filled the paper from the tobacco sack without spilling a flake, as though he had passed from the machine gun’s barrage into a bourne beyond any more amazement: so that the subsequent part of his narrative seemed to reach his listeners as though from beyond a sheet of slightly milky though still transparent glass, as something not heard but seen—a series of shadows, edgeless yet distinct, and smoothly flowing, logical and unfrantic and making no sound: They were in the skiff, in the center of the broad placid trough which had no boundaries and down which the tiny forlorn skiff flew to the irresistible coercion of a current going once more he knew not where, the neat small liveoak-bowered towns unattainable and miragelike and apparently attached to nothing upon the airy and unchanging horizon. He did not believe them, they did not matter, he was doomed; they were less than the figments of smoke or of delirium, and he driving his unceasing paddle without destination or even hope now, looking now and then at the woman sitting with her knees drawn up and locked and her entire body one terrific clench while the threads of bloody saliva crept from her teeth-clenched lower lip. He was going nowhere and fleeing from nothing, he merely continued to paddle because he had paddled so long now that he believed if he stopped his muscles would scream in agony. So when it happened he was not surprised. He heard the sound which he knew well (he had heard it but once before, true enough, but no man needed hear it but once) and he had been expecting it; he looked back, still driving the paddle, and saw it, curled, crested with its strawlike flotsam of trees and debris and dead beasts and he glared over his shoulder at it for a full minute out of that attenuation far beyond the point of outragement where even suffering, the capability of being further affronted, had ceased, from which he now contemplated with savage and invulnerable curiosity the further extent to which his now anesthetised nerves could bear, what next could be invented for them to bear, until the wave actually began to rear above his head into its thunderous climax. Then only did he turn his head. His stroke did not falter, it neither slowed nor increased; still paddling with that spent hypnotic steadiness, he saw the swimming deer. He did not know what it was nor that he had altered the skiff’s course to follow it, he just watched the swimming head before him as the wave boiled down and the skiff rose bodily in the old familiar fashion on a welter of tossing trees and houses and bridges and fences, he still paddling even while the paddle found no purchase save air and still paddled even as he and the deer shot forward side by side at arm’s length, he watching the deer now, watching the deer begin to rise out of the water bodily until it was actually running along upon the surface, rising still, soaring clear of the water altogether, vanishing upward in a dying crescendo of splashings and snapping branches, its damp scut flashing upward, the entire animal vanishing upward as smoke vanishes. And now the skiff struck and canted and he was out of it too, standing knee-deep, springing out and falling to his knees, scrambling up, glaring after the vanished deer. “Land!” he croaked. “Land! Hold on! Just hold on!” He caught the woman beneath the arms, dragging her out of the boat, plunging and panting after the vanished deer. Now earth actually appeared—an acclivity smooth and swift and steep, bizarre, solid and unbelievable; an Indian mound, and he plunging at the muddy slope, slipping back, the woman struggling in his muddy hands.

“Let me down!” she cried. “Let me down!” But he held her, panting, sobbing, and rushed again at the muddy slope; he had almost reached the flat crest with his now violently unmanageable burden when a stick under his foot gathered itself with thick convulsive speed. It was a snake, he thought as his feet fled beneath him and with the indubitable last of his strength he half pushed and half flung the woman up the bank as he shot feet first and face down back into that medium upon which he had lived for more days and nights than he could remember and from which he himself had never completely emerged, as if his own failed and spent flesh were attempting to carry out his furious unflagging will for severance at any price, even that of drowning, from the burden with which, unwitting and without choice, he had been doomed. Later it seemed to him that he had carried back beneath the surface with him the sound of the infant’s first mewling cry.

When the woman asked him if he had a knife, standing there in the streaming bed-ticking garments which had got him shot at, the second time by a machine gun, on the two occasions when he had seen any human life after leaving the levee four days ago, the convict felt exactly as he had in the fleeing skiff when the woman suggested that they had better hurry. He felt the same outrageous affronting of a condition purely moral, the same raging impotence to find any answer to it; so that, standing above her, spent suffocating and inarticulate, it was a full minute before he comprehended that she was now crying, “The can! The can in the boat!” He did not anticipate what she could want with it; he did not even wonder nor stop to ask. He turned running; this time he thought, It’s another moccasin as the thick body truncated in that awkward reflex which had nothing of alarm in it but only alertness, he not even shifting his stride though he knew his running foot would fall within a yard of the flat head. The bow of the skiff was well up the slope now where the wave had set it and there was another snake just crawling over the stern into it and as he stooped for the bailing can he saw something else swimming toward the mound, he didn’t know what—a head, a face at the apex of a vee of ripples. He snatched up the can; by pure juxtaposition of it and water he scooped it full, already turning. He saw the deer again, or another one. That is, he saw a deer—a side glance, the light smoke-colored phantom in a cypress vista then gone, vanished, he not pausing to look after it, galloping back to the woman and kneeling with the can to her lips until she told him better.

It had contained a pint of beans or tomatoes, something, hermetically sealed and opened by four blows of an axe heel, the metal flap turned back, the jagged edges razor-sharp. She told him how, and he used this in lieu of a knife, he removed one of his shoelaces and cut it in two with the sharp tin. Then she wanted warm water—“If I just had a little hot water,” she said in a weak serene voice without particular hope; only when he thought of matches it was again a good deal like when she had asked him if he had a knife, until she fumbled in the pocket of the shrunken tunic (it had a darker double vee on one cuff and a darker blotch on the shoulder where service stripes and a divisional emblem had been ripped off but this meant nothing to him) and produced a match-box contrived by telescoping two shotgun shells. So he drew her back a little from the water and went to hunt wood dry enough to burn, thinking this time, It’s just another snake, only, he said, he should have thought ten thousand other snakes: and now he knew it was not the same deer because he saw three at one time, does or bucks he did not know which since they were all antlerless in May and besides he had never seen one of any kind anywhere before except on a Christmas card; and then the rabbit, drowned, dead anyway, already torn open, the bird, the hawk, standing upon it—the erected crest, the hard vicious patrician nose, the intolerant omnivorous yellow eye—and he kicking at it, kicking it lurching and broadwinged into the actual air.

When he returned with the wood and the dead rabbit, the baby, wrapped in the tunic, lay wedged between two cypress-knees and the woman was not in sight, though while the convict knelt in the mud, blowing and nursing his meagre flame, she came slowly and weakly from the direction of the water. Then, the water heated at last and there produced from some where he was never to know, she herself perhaps never to know until the need comes, no woman perhaps ever to know, only no woman will even wonder, that square of something somewhere between sackcloth and silk—squatting, his own wet garments steaming in the fire’s heat, he watched her bathe the child with a savage curiosity and interest that became amazed unbelief, so that at last he stood above them both, looking down at the tiny terra-cotta colored creature resembling nothing, and thought, And this is all. This is what severed me violently from all I ever knew and did not wish to leave and cast me upon a medium I was born to fear, to fetch up at last in a place I never saw before and where I do not even know where I am.

Then he returned to the water and refilled the bailing can. It was drawing toward sunset now (or what would have been sunset save for the high prevailing overcast) of this day whose beginning he could not even remember; when he returned to where the fire burned in the interlaced gloom of the cypresses, even after this short absence, evening had definitely come, as though darkness too had taken refuge upon that quarter-acre mound, that earthen Ark out of Genesis, that dim wet cypress-choked life-teeming constricted desolation in what direction and how far from what and where he had no more idea than of the day of the month, and had now with the setting of the sun crept forth again to spread upon the waters. He stewed the rabbit in sections while the fire burned redder and redder in the darkness where the shy wild eyes of small animals—once the tall mild almost plate-sized stare of one of the deer—glowed and vanished and glowed again, the broth hot and rank after the four days; he seemed to hear the roar of his own saliva as he watched the woman sip the first canful. Then he drank too; they ate the other fragments which had been charring and scorching on willow twigs; it was full night now. “You and him better sleep in the boat,” the convict said. “We want to get an early start tomorrow.” He shoved the bow of the skiff off the land so it would lie level, he lengthened the painter with a piece of grapevine and returned to the fire and tied the grapevine about his wrist and lay down. It was mud he lay upon, but it was solid underneath, it was earth, it did not move; if you fell upon it you broke your bones against its incontrovertible passivity sometimes but it did not accept you substanceless and enveloping and suffocating, down and down and down; it was hard at times to drive a plow through, it sent you spent, weary, and cursing its light-long insatiable demands back to your bunk at sunset at times but it did not snatch you violently out of all familiar knowing and sweep you thrall and impotent for days against any returning. I dont know where I am and I dont reckon I know the way hack to where I want to go, he thought. But at least the boat has stopped long enough to give me a chance to turn it around.

He waked at dawn, the light faint, the sky jonquil-colored; the day would be fine. The fire had burned out; on the opposite side of the cold ashes lay three snakes motionless and parallel as underscoring, and in the swiftly making light others seemed to materialise: earth which an instant before had been mere earth broke up into motionless coils and loops, branches which a moment before had been mere branches now become immobile ophidian festoons even as the convict stood th