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Chapter 11

  1. CHAPTER 1
  2. Chapter 1
  3. CHAPTER 10
  4. Chapter 10
  5. CHAPTER 12
  6. Chapter 12

BY the light of the candle she did not look much more than thirty, in the soft light downfalling upon the softungirdled presence of a woman prepared for sleep. When he saw her by daylight he knew that she was better than thirty-five. Later she told him that she was forty. 'Which means either forty-one or forty-nine, from the way she said it,' he thought. But it was not that first night, nor for many succeeding ones, that she told him that much even.

She told him very little, anyway. They talked very little, and that casually, even after he was the lover of her spinster's bed. Sometimes he could almost believe that they did not talk at all, that he did not know her at all. It was as though there were two people: the one whom he saw now and then by day and looked at while they spoke to one another with speech that told nothing at all since it did not try to and did not intend to; the other with whom he lay at night and did not even see, speak to, at all.

Even after a year (he was working at the planing mill now) when he saw her by day at all, it would be on Saturday afternoon or Sunday or when he would come to the house for the food which she would prepare for him and leave upon the kitchen table. Now and then she would come to the kitchen, though she would never stay while he ate, and at times she met him at the back porch, where during the first four or five months of his residence in the cabin below the house, they would stand for a while and talk almost like strangers. They always stood: she in one of her apparently endless succession of clean calico house dresses and sometimes a cloth sunbonnet like a countrywoman, and he in a clean white shirt now and the serge trousers creased now every week. They never sat down to talk. He had never seen her sitting save one time when he looked through a downstairs window and saw her writing at a desk in the room. And it was a year after he had remarked without curiosity the volume of mail which she received and sent, and that for a certain period of each forenoon she would sit at the worn, scarred, rolltop desk in one of the scarceused and sparsely furnished downstairs rooms, writing steadily, before he learned that what she received were business and private documents with fifty different postmarks and what she sent were replies-advice, business, financial and religious, to the presidents and faculties and trustees, and advice personal and practical to young girl students and even alumnae, of a dozen negro schools and colleges through the south. Now and then she would be absent from home three and four days at a time, and though he could now see her at his will on any night, it was a year before he learned that in these absences she visited the schools in person and talked to the teachers and the students. Her business affairs were conducted. by a negro lawyer in Memphis, who was a trustee of one of the schools, and in whose safe, along with her will, reposed the written instructions (in her own hand) for the disposal of her body after death. When he learned that, he understood the town's attitude toward her, though he knew that the town did not know as much as he did. He said to himself: 'Then I will not be bothered here.'

One day he realised that she had never invited him inside the house proper. He had never been further than the kitchen, which he had already entered of his own accord, thinking, liplifted, 'She could not keep me out of here. I guess she knows that. ' And he had never entered the kitchen by day save when he came to get the food which she prepared for him and set out upon the table. And when he entered the house at night it was as he had entered it that first night; he felt like a thief, a robber, even while he mounted to the bedroom where she waited. Even after a year it was as though he entered by stealth to despoil her virginity each time anew. It was as though each turn of dark saw him faced again with the necessity to despoil again that which he had already despoiled-or never had and never would.

Sometimes he thought of it in that way, remembering the hard, untearful and unselfpitying and almost manlike yielding of that surrender. A spiritual privacy so long intact that its own instinct for preservation had immolated it, its physical phase the strength and fortitude of a man. A dual personality: the one the woman at first sight of whom in the lifted candle (or perhaps the very sound of the slippered approaching feet) there had opened before him, instantaneous as a landscape in a lightningflash, a horizon of physical security and adultery if not pleasure; the other the mantrained muscles and the mantrained habit of thinking born of heritage and environment with which he had to fight up to the final instant. There was no feminine vacillation, no coyness of obvious desire and intention to succumb at last. It was as if he struggled physically with another man for an object of no actual value to either, and for which they struggled on principle alone.

When he saw her next, he thought, 'My God. How little I know about women, when I thought I knew so much. ' It was on the very next day; looking at her, being spoken to by her, it was as though what memory of less than twelve hours knew to be true could never have happened, thinking Under her clothes she can not even be made so that it could have happened.He had not started to work at the mill then. Most of that day he spent lying on his back on the cot which she had loaned him, in the cabin which she had given him to live in, smoking, his hands beneath his head. 'My God,' he thought, 'it was like I was the woman and she was the man.' But that was not right, either. Because she had resisted to the very last. But it was not woman resistance, that resistance which, if really meant, can not be overcome by any man for the reason that the woman observes no rules of physical combat. But she had resisted fair, by the rules that decreed that upon a certain crisis one was defeated, whether the end of resistance had come or not. That night he waited until he saw the light go out in the kitchen and then come on in her room. He went to the house. He did not go in eagerness, but in a quiet rage. "I'll show her," he said aloud. He did not try to be quiet. He entered the house boldly and mounted the stairs; she heard him at once. "Who is it?" she said. But there was no alarm in her tone. He did not answer. He mounted the stairs and entered the room. She was still dressed, turning, watching the door as he entered. But she did not speak to him. She just watched him as he went to the table and blew out the lamp, thinking, 'Now she'll run.' And so he sprang forward, toward the door to intercept her. But she did not flee. He found her in the dark exactly where the light had lost her, in the same attitude. He began to tear at her clothes. He was talking to her, in a tense, hard, low voice: "I'll show you! I'll show the bitch!" She did not resist at all. It was almost as though she were helping him, with small changes of position of limbs when the ultimate need for help arose. But beneath his hands the body might have been the body of a dead woman not yet stiffened. But he did not desist; though his hands were hard and urgent it was with rage alone. 'At least I have made a woman of her at last,' he thought. 'Now she hates me. I have taught her that, at least. '

The next day he lay again all day long on his cot in the cabin. He ate nothing; he did not even go to the kitchen to see if she had left food for him. He was waiting for sunset, dusk. 'Then I'll blow,' he thought. He did not expect ever to see her again. 'Better blow,' he thought. 'Not give her the chance to turn me out of the cabin too. That much, anyway. No white woman ever did that. Only a nigger woman ever give me the air, turned me out. ' So he lay on the cot, smoking, waiting for sunset. Through the open door he watched the sun slant and lengthen and turn copper. Then the copper faded into lilac, into the fading lilac of full dusk. He could hear the frogs then, and fireflies began to drift across the open frame of the door, growing brighter as the dusk faded. Then he rose. He owned nothing but the razor; when he had put that into his pocket, he was ready to travel one mile or a thousand, wherever the street of the imperceptible corners should choose to run again. Yet when he moved, it was toward the house. It was as though, as soon as he found that his feet intended to go there, that he let go, seemed to float, surrendered, thinking All right All right floating, riding across the dusk, up to the house and onto the back porch and to the door by which he would enter, that was never locked. But when he put his hand upon it, it would not open. Perhaps for the moment neither hand nor believing would believe; he seemed to stand there, quiet, not yet thinking, watching his hand shaking the door, hearing the sound of the bolt on the inside. He turned away quietly. He was not yet raging. He went to the kitchen door. He expected that to be locked also. But he did not realise until he found that it was open, that he had wanted it to be. When he found that it was not locked it was like an insult. It was as though some enemy upon whom he had wreaked his utmost of violence and contumely stood, unscathed and unscathed, and contemplated him with a musing and insufferable contempt. When he entered the kitchen, he did not approach the door into the house proper, the door in which she had appeared with the candle on the night when he first saw her. He went directly to the table where she set out his food. He did not need to see. His hands saw; the dishes were still a little warm, thinking Set out for the nigger. For the nigger.

He seemed to watch his hand as if from a distance. He watched it pick up a dish and swing it up and back and hold it there while he breathed deep and slow, intensely cogitant. He heard his voice say aloud, as if he were playing a game: "Ham," and watched his hand swing and hurl the dish crashing into the wall, the invisible wall, waiting for the crash to subside and silence to flow completely back before taking up another one. He held this dish poised, sniffing. This one required some time. "Beans or greens?" he said. "Beans or spinach? ... All right. Call it beans." He hurled it, hard, waiting until the crash ceased. He raised the third dish. "Something with onions," he said, thinking This is fun. Why did not I think of this before? "Woman's muck." He hurled it, hard and slow, hearing the crash, waiting. Now he heard something else: feet within the house, approaching the door. 'She'll have the lamp this time,' he thought thinking If I were to look now, I could see the light under the door As his hand swung up and back. Now she has almost reached the door "Potatoes," he said at last, with judicial finality. He did not look around, even when he heard the bolt in the door and heard the door inyawn and light fell upon him where he stood with the dish poised. "Yes, it's potatoes," he said, in the preoccupied and oblivious tone of a child playing alone. He could both see and hear this crash. Then the light went away; again he heard the door yawn, again he heard the bolt. He had not yet looked around. He took up the next dish. "Beets," he said. "I do not like beets, anyhow."

The next day he went to work at the planing mill. He went to work on Friday. He had eaten nothing now since Wednesday night. He drew no pay until Saturday evening, working overtime Saturday afternoon. He ate Saturday night, in a restaurant downtown, for the first time in three days. He did not return to the house. For a time he would not even look toward it when he left or entered the cabin. At the end of six months he had worn a private path between the cabin and the mill. It ran almost stringstraight, avoiding all houses, entering the woods soon and running straight and with daily increasing definition and precision, to the sawdust pile where he worked. And always, when the whistle blew at five thirty, he returned by it to the cabin, to change into the white shirt and the dark creased trousers before walking the two miles back to town to eat, as if he were ashamed of the overalls. Or perhaps it was not shame, though very likely he could no more have said what it was than he could have said that it was not shame.

He no longer deliberately avoided looking at the house; neither did he deliberately look at it. For a while he believed that she would send for him. 'She'll make the first sign,' he thought. But she did not; after a while he believed that he no longer expected it. Yet on the first time that he deliberately looked again toward the house, he felt a shocking surge and fall of blood; then he knew that he had been afraid all the time that she would be in sight, that she had been watching him all the while with that perspicuous and still contempt; he felt a sensation of sweating, of having surmounted an ordeal. 'That's over,' he thought. 'I have done that now.' So that when one day he did see her, there was no shock. Perhaps he was prepared. Anyway, there was no shocking surge and drop of blood when he looked up, completely by chance, and saw her in the back yard, in a gray dress and the sunbonnet. He could not tell if she had been watching him or had seen him or were watching him now or not. 'You do not bother me and I do not bother you,' he thought, thinking I dreamed it. It did not happen. She has nothing under her clothes so that it could have happened.

He went to work in the spring. One evening in September he returned home and entered the cabin and stopped in midstride, in complete astonishment. She was sitting on the cot, looking at him. Her head was bare. He had never seen it bare before, though he had felt in the dark the loose abandon of her hair, not yet wild, on a dark pillow. But he had never seen her hair before and he stood staring at it alone while she watched him; he said suddenly to himself, in the instant of moving again: 'She's trying to. I had expected it to have gray in it She's trying to be a woman and she do not know how. ' Thinking, knowing She has come to talk to me Two hours later she was still talking, they sitting side by side on the cot in the now dark cabin. She told him that she was forty-one years old and that she had been born in the house yonder and had lived there ever since. That she had never been away from Jefferson for a longer period than six months at any time and these only at wide intervals filled with homesickness for the sheer boards and nails, the earth and trees and shrubs, which composed the place which was a foreign land to her and her people; when she spoke even now, after forty years, among the slurred consonants and the flat vowels of the land where her life had been cast, New England talked as plainly as it did in the speech of her kin who had never left New Hampshire and whom she had seen perhaps three times in her life, her forty years. Sitting beside her on the dark cot while the light failed and at last her voice was without source, steady, interminable, pitched almost like the voice of a man, Christmas thought, 'She is like all the rest of them. Whether they are seventeen or forty-seven, when they finally come to surrender completely, it's going to be in words. '

Calvin Burden was the son of a minister named Nathaniel Burrington. The youngest of ten children, he ran away from home at the age of twelve, before he could write his name (or would write it, his father believed) on a ship. He made the voyage around the Horn to California and turned Catholic; he lived for a year in a monastery. Ten years later he reached Missouri from the west. Three weeks after he arrived he was married, to the daughter of a family of Huguenot stock which had emigrated from Carolina by way of Kentucky. On the day after the wedding he said, "I guess I had better settle down." He began that day to settle down. The wedding celebration was still in progress, and his first step was to formally deny allegiance to the Catholic church. He did this in a saloon, insisting that every one present listen to him and state their objections; he was a little insistent on there being objections, though there were none; not, that is, up to the time when he was led away by friends. The next day he said that he meant it, anyhow; that he would not belong to a church full of frogeating slaveholders. That was in Saint Louis. He bought a home there, and a year later he was a father. He said then that he had denied the Catholic church a year ago for the sake of his son's soul; almost as soon as the boy was born, he set about to imbue the child with the religion of his New England forebears. There was no Unitarian meetinghouse available, and Burden could not read the English Bible. But he had learned to read in Spanish from the priests in California, and as soon as the child could walk Burden (he pronounced it Burden now, since he could not spell it at all and the priests had taught him to write it laboriously so with a hand more apt for a rope or a gunbutt or a knife than a pen) began to read to the child in Spanish from the book which he had brought with him from California, interspersing the fine, sonorous flowing of mysticism in a foreign tongue with harsh, extemporised dissertations composed half of the bleak and bloodless logic which he remembered from his father on interminable New England Sundays, and half of immediate hellfire and tangible brimstone of which any country Methodist circuit rider would have been proud. The two of them would be alone in the room: the tall, gaunt, Nordic man, and the small, dark, vivid child who had inherited his mother's build and coloring, like people of two different races. When the boy was about five, Burden killed a man in an argument over slavery and had to take his family and move, leave Saint Louis. He moved westward, "to get away from Democrats," he said.

The settlement to which he moved consisted of a store, a blacksmith shop, a church and two saloons. Here Burden spent much of his time talking politics and in his harsh loud voice cursing slavery and slaveholders. His reputation had come with him and he was known to carry a pistol, and his opinions were received without comment, at least. At times, especially on Saturday nights, he came home, still full of straight whiskey and the sound of his own ranting. Then he would wake his son (the mother was dead now and there were three daughters, all with blue eyes) with his hard hand. "I'll learn you to hate two things," he would say, "or I'll frail the tar out of you. And those things are hell and slaveholders. Do you hear me?"

"Yes," the boy would say. "I can not help but hear you. Get on to bed and let me sleep."

He was no proselyter, missionary. Save for an occasional minor episode with pistols, none of which resulted fatally, he confined himself to his own blood. "Let them all go to their own benighted hell," he said to his children. "But I'll beat the loving God into the four of you as long as I can raise my arm." That would be on Sunday, each Sunday when, washed and clean, the children in calico or denim, the father in his broadcloth frockcoat bulging over the pistol in his hip pocket, and the collarless plaited shirt which the oldest girl laundered each Saturday as well as the dead mother ever had, they gathered in the clean crude parlor while Burden read from the once gilt and blazoned book in that language which none of them understood. He continued to do that up to the time when his son ran away from home.

The son's name was Nathaniel. He ran away at fourteen and did not return for sixteen years, though they heard from him twice in that time by word-of-mouth messenger. The first time was from Colorado, the second time from Old Mexico. He did not say what he was doing in either place. "He was all right when I left him," the messenger said. This was the second messenger; it was in 1863 and the messenger was eating breakfast in the kitchen, bolting his food with decorous celerity. The three girls, the two oldest almost grown now, were serving him, standing with arrested dishes and softly open mouths in their full, coarse, clean dresses, about the crude table, the father sitting opposite the messenger across the table, his head propped on his single hand. The other arm he had lost two years ago while a member of a troop of partisan guerilla horse in the Kansas fighting, and his head and beard were grizzled now. But he was still vigorous, and his frockcoat still bulged behind over the butt of the heavy pistol. "He got into a little trouble," the messenger said. "But he was still all right the last I heard."

"Trouble?" the father said.

"He killed a Mexican that claimed he stole his horse. You know how them Spanish are about white men, even when they do not kill Mexicans." The messenger drank some coffee. "But I reckon they have to be kind of strict, with the country filling up with tenderfeet and all.-Thank you kindly," he said, as the oldest girl slid a fresh stack of corn cakes onto his plate; "Yessum, I can reach the sweetening fine.-Folks claim it was not the Mexican's horse noways. Claim the Mexican never owned no horse. But I reckon even them Spanish have got to be strict, with these Easterners already giving the West such a bad name. "

The father grunted. "I'll be bound. If there was trouble there, I'll be bound he was in it. You tell him," he said violently, "if he lets them yellowbellied priests bamboozle him, I'll shoot him myself quick as I would a Reb. "

"You tell him to come on back home," the oldest girl said. "That's what you tell him."

"Yessum," the messenger said. "I'll shore tell him. I'm going east to Indianny for a spell. But I'll see him soon as I get back. I'll shore tell him. Oh, yes; I nigh forgot. He said to tell you the woman and kid was fine. "

"Whose woman and kid?" the father said.

"His," the messenger said. "I thank you kindly again. And good-bye all."

They heard from the son a third time before they saw him again. They heard him shouting one day out in front of the house, though still some distance away. It was in 1866. The family had moved again, a hundred miles further west, and it had taken the son two months to find them, riding back and forth across Kansas and Missouri in a buckboard with two leather sacks of gold dust and minted coins and crude jewels thrown under the seat like a pair of old shoes, before he found the sod cabin and drove up to it, shouting. Sitting in a chair before the cabin door was a man. "There's father," Nathaniel said to the woman on the buckboard seat beside him. "See?" Though the father was only in his late fifties, his sight had begun to fail. He did not distinguish his son's face until the buckboard had stopped and the sisters had billowed shrieking through the door. Then Calvin rose; he gave a long, booming shout. "Well," Nathaniel said; "Here we are."

Calvin was not speaking sentences at all. He was just yelling, cursing. "I'm going to frail the tar out of you!" he roared. "Girls! Vangie! Beck! Sarah!" The sisters had already emerged. They seemed to boil through the door in their full skirts like balloons on a torrent, with shrill cries, above which the father's voice boomed and roared. His coat-the frockcoat of Sunday or the wealthy or the retired-was open now and he was tugging at something near his waist with the same gesture and attitude with which he might be drawing the pistol. But he was merely dragging from about his waist with his single hand a leather strap, and flourishing it he now thrust and shoved through the shrill and birdlike hovering of the women. "I'll learn you yet!" he roared. "I'll learn you to run away!" The strap fell twice across Nathaniel's shoulders. It fell twice before the two men locked.

It was in play, in a sense: a kind of deadly play and smiling seriousness: the play of two lions that might or might not leave marks. They locked, the strap arrested: face to face and breast to breast they stood: the old man with his gaunt, grizzled face and his pale New England eyes, and the young one who bore no resemblance to him at all, with his beaked nose and his white teeth smiling. "Stop it," Nathaniel said. "Do not you see who's watching yonder in the buckboard?"

They had none of them looked at the buckboard until now. Sitting on the seat was a woman and a boy of about twelve. The father looked once at the woman; he did not even need to see the boy. He just looked at the woman, his jaw slacked as if he had seen a ghost. "Evangeline!" he said. She looked enough like his dead wife to have been her sister. The boy who could hardly remember his mother at all, had taken for wife a woman who looked almost exactly like her.

"That's Juana," he said. "That's Calvin with her. We come home to get married."

After supper that night, with the woman and child in bed, Nathaniel told them. They sat about the lamp: the father, the sisters, the returned son. There were no-ministers out there where he had been, he explained; just priests and Catholics. "So when we found that the chico was on the way, she begun to talk about a priest. But I was not going to have any Burden born a heathen. So I begun to look around, to humor her. But first one thing and then another come up and I could not get away to meet a minister; and then the boy came and so it was not any rush anymore. But she kept on worrying, about priests and such, and so in a couple of years I heard how there was to be a white minister in Santa Fe on a certain day. So we packed up and started out and got to Santa Fe just in time to see the dust of the stage that was carrying the minister on away. So we waited there and in a couple more years we had another chance, in Texas. Only this time I got kind of mixed up with helping some Rangers that were cleaning up some kind of a mess where some folks had a deputy treed in a dance hall. So when that was over we just decided to come on home and get married right. And here we are. "

The father sat, gaunt, grizzled, and austere, beneath the lamp. He had been listening, but his expression was brooding, with a kind of violently slumbering contemplativeness and bewildered outrage. "Another damn black Burden," he said. "Folks will think I bred to a damn slaver. And now he's got to breed to one, too." The son listened quietly, not even attempting to tell his father that the woman was Spanish and not Rebel. "Damn, lowbuilt black folks: low built because of the weight of the wrath of God, black because of the sin of human bondage staining their blood and flesh." His gaze was vague, fanatical, and convinced. "But we done freed them now, both black and white alike. They'll bleach out now. In a hundred years they will be white folks again. Then maybe we'll let them come back into America." He mused, smoldering, immobile. "By God," he said suddenly, "he's got a man's build, anyway, for all his black look. By God, he's going to be as big a man as his grandpappy; not a runt like his pa. For all his black dam and his black look, he will. "

She told Christmas this while they sat on the cot in the darkening cabin. They had not moved for over an hour. He could not see her face at all now; he seemed to swing faintly, as though in a drifting boat, upon the sound of her voice as upon some immeasurable and drowsing peace evocative of nothing of any moment, scarce listening. "His name was Calvin, like grandpa's, and he was as big as grandpa, even if he was dark like father's mother's people and like his mother. She was not my mother: he was just my halfbrother. Grandpa was the last of ten, and father was the last of two, and Calvin was the last of all. " He had just turned twenty when he was killed in the town two miles away by an exslaveholder and Confederate soldier named Sartoris, over a question of negro voting.

She told Christmas about the graves-the brother's, the grandfather's, the father's and his two wives-on a cedar knoll in the pasture a half mile from the house; listening quietly, Christmas thought. 'Ah. She'll take me to see them. I will have to go. ' But she did not. She never mentioned the graves to him again after that night when she told him where they were and that he could go and see them for himself if he wished. "You probably can not find them, anyway," she said. "Because when they brought grandfather and Calvin home that evening, father waited until after dark and buried them and hid the graves, levelled the mounds and put brush and things over them."

"Hid them?" Christmas said.

There was nothing soft, feminine, mournful and retrospective in her voice. "So they would not find them. Dig them up. Maybe butcher them." She went on, her voice a little impatient, explanatory: "They hated us here. We were Yankees. Foreigners. Worse than foreigners: enemies. Carpetbaggers. And it-the War-still too close for even the ones that got whipped to be very sensible. Stirring up the negroes to murder and rape, they called it. Threatening white supremacy. So I suppose that Colonel Sartoris was, a town hero because he killed with two shots from the same pistol an old onearmed man and a boy who had never even cast his first vote. Maybe they were right. I do not know. "

"Oh," Christmas said. "They might have done that? Dug them up after they were already killed, dead? Just when do men that have different blood in them stop hating one another?"

"When do they?" Her voice ceased. She went on: "I do not know. I do not know whether they would have dug them up or not. I was not alive then. I was not born until fourteen years after Calvin was killed. I do not know what men might have done then. But father thought they might have. So he hid the graves. And then Calvin's mother died and he buried her there, with Calvin and grandpa. And so it sort of got to be our burying ground before we knew it. Maybe father had not planned to bury her there. I remember how my mother (father sent for her up to New Hampshire where some of our kin people still live, soon after Calvin's mother died. He was alone here, you see. I suppose if it had not been for Calvin and grandpa buried out yonder, he would have gone away) told me that father started once to move away, when Calvin's mother died. But she died in the summer, and it would have been too hot then to take her back to Mexico, to her people. So he buried her here. maybe that's why he decided to stay here. Or maybe it was because he was getting old too then, and all the men who had fought in the War were getting old and the negroes had not raped or murdered anybody to speak of. Anyway, he buried her here. He had to hide that grave too, because he thought that someone might see it and happen to remember Calvin and grandfather. He could not take the risk, even if it was all over and past and done then. And the next year he wrote to our cousin in New Hampshire. He said, 'I am fifty years old. I have all she will ever need. Send me a good woman for a wife. I do not care who she is, just so she is a good housekeeper and is at least thirty-five years old. ' He sent the railroad fare in the letter. Two months later my mother got here and they were married that day. That was quick marrying, for him. The other time it took him over twelve years to get married, that time back in Kansas when he and Calvin and Calvin's mother finally caught up with grandfather. They got home in the middle of the week, but they waited until Sunday to have the wedding. They had it outdoors, down by the creek, with a barbecued steer and a keg of whiskey and everybody that they could get word to or that heard about it, came. They began to get there Saturday morning, and on Saturday night the preacher came. All that day father's sisters worked, making Calvin's mother a wedding gown and a veil. They made the gown out of flour sacks and the veil out of some mosquito netting that a saloon keeper had nailed over a picture behind the bar. They borrowed it from him. They even made some kind of a suit for Calvin to wear. He was twelve then, and they wanted him to be the ringbearer. He did not want to. He found out the night before what they intended to make him do, and the next day (they had intended to have the wedding about six or seven o'clock the next morning) after everybody had got up and eaten breakfast, they had to put off the ceremony until they could find Calvin. At last they found him and made him put on the suit and they had the wedding, with Calvin's mother in the homemade gown and the mosquito veil and father with his hair slicked with bear's grease and the carved Spanish boots he had brought back from Mexico. Grandfather gave the bride away. Only he had been going back to the keg of. whiskey every now and then while they were hunting for Calvin, and so when his time came to give the bride away he made a speech instead. He got off on Lincoln and slavery and dared any man there to deny that Lincoln and the negro and Moses and the children of Israel were the same, and that the Red Sea was just the blood that had to be spilled in order that the black race might cross into the Promised Land. It took them some time to make him stop so the wedding could go on. After the wedding they stayed about a month. Then one day father and grandfather went east, to Washington, and got a commission from the government to come down here, to help with the freed negroes. They came to Jefferson, all except father's sisters. Two of them got married, and the youngest one went to live with one of the others, and grandfather and father and Calvin and his mother came here and bought the house. And then what they probably knew all the time was going to happen did happen, and father was alone until my mother came from New Hampshire. They had never even seen one another before, not even a picture. They got married the day she got here and two years later I was born and father named me Joanna after Calvin's mother. I do not think he even wanted another son at all. I can not remember him very well. The only time I can remember him as somebody, a person, was when he took me and showed me Calvin's and grandpa's graves. It was a bright day, in the spring. I remember. how I did not want to go, without even knowing where it was that we were going. I did not want to go into the cedars. I do not know why I did not want to. I could not have known what was in there; I was just four then. And even if I had known, that should not have frightened a child. I think it was something about father, something that came from the cedar grove to me, through him. A some thing that I felt that he had put on the cedar grove, and that when I went into it, the grove would put on me so that I would never be able to forget it. I do not know. But he made me go in, and the two of us standing there, and he said, 'Remember this. Your grandfather and brother are lying there, murdered not by one white man but by the curse which God put on a whole race before your grandfather or your brother or me or you were even thought of. A race doomed and cursed to be forever and ever a part of the white race's doom and curse for its sins. Remember that. His doom and his curse. Forever and ever. Mine. Your mother's. Yours, even though you are a child. The curse of every white child that ever was born and that ever will be born. None can escape it. ' And I said, 'Not even me?' And he said, 'Not even you. Least of all, you. ' I had seen and known negroes since I could remember. I just looked at them as I did at rain, or furniture, or food or sleep. But after that I seemed to see them for the first time not as people, but as a thing, a shadow in which I lived, we lived, all white people, all other people. I thought of all the children coming forever and ever into the world, white, with the black shadow already falling upon them before they drew breath. And I seemed to see the black shadow in the shape of a cross. And it seemed like the white babies were struggling, even before they drew breath, to escape from the shadow that was not only upon them but beneath them too, flung out like their arms were flung out, as if they were nailed to the cross. I saw all the little babies that would ever be in the world, the ones not yet even born-a long line of them with their arms spread, on the black crosses. I could not tell then whether I saw it or dreamed it. But it was terrible to me. I cried at night. At last I told father, tried to tell him. What I wanted to tell him was that I must escape, get away from under the shadow, or I would die. 'You can not,' he said. 'You must struggle, rise. But in order to rise, you must raise the shadow with you. But you can never lift it to your level. I see that now, which I did not see until I came down here. But escape it you can not. The curse of the black race is God's curse. But the curse of the white race is the black man who will be forever God's chosen own because He once cursed Him. ' "Her voice ceased. Across the vague oblong of open door fireflies drifted. At last Christmas said:

"There was something I was going to ask you. But I guess I know the answer myself now."

She did not stir. Her voice was quiet. "What?"

"Why your father never killed that fellow-what's his name? Sartoris."

"Oh," she said. Then there was silence again. Across the door the fireflies drifted and drifted. "You would have. Would not you?"

"Yes," he said, at once, immediately. Then he knew that she was looking toward his voice almost as if she could see him. Her voice was almost gentle now, it was so quiet, so still.

"You do not have any idea who your parents were?"

If she could have seen his face she would have found it sullen, brooding. "Except that one of them was part nigger. Like I told you before."

She was still looking at him; her voice told him that. It was quiet, impersonal, interested without being curious. "How do you know that?"

He did not answer for some time. Then he said: "I do not know it." Again his voice ceased; by its sound she knew that he was looking away, toward the door. His face was sullen, quite still. Then he spoke again, moving; his voice now had an overtone, unmirthful yet quizzical, at once humorless and sardonic: "If I'm not, damned if I have not wasted a lot of time."

She in turn seemed to muse now, quiet, scarcebreathing, yet still with nothing of selfpity or retrospect: "I had thought of that. Why father did not shoot Colonel Sartoris. I think that it was because of his French blood."

"French blood?" Christmas said. "Do not even Frenchmen get mad when a man kills his father and his son on the same day? I guess your father must have got religion. Turned preacher, maybe."

She did not answer for a time. The fireflies drifted; somewhere a dog barked, mellow, sad, faraway. "I thought about that," she said. "It was all over then. The killing in uniform and with flags, and the killing without uniforms and flags. And none of it doing or did any good. None of it. And we were foreigners, strangers, that thought, differently from the people whose country we had come into without being asked or wanted. And he was French, half of him. Enough French to respect anybody's love for the land where he and his people were born and to understand that a man would have to act as the land where he was born had trained him to act. I think that was it. "





Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 |

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