WILLIAM FAULKNER, born New Albany, Mississippi, September 25, 1897-died July 6, 1962. Enlisted Royal Air Force, Canada, 1918. Attended University of Mississippi. Traveled in Europe 1925-1926. Resident of Oxford, Mississippi, where he held various jobs while trying to establish himself as a writer. First published novel, Soldiers 'Pay, 1926. Writer in Residence at the University of Virginia 1957-1958. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 1950.
Light in August, Faulkner's seventh novel, was first published October 6, 1932, by Harrison Smith and Robert Haas. The text of this edition is reproduced photographically from a copy of the first edition.
This book is the final chapter of, and the summation of, a work conceived and begun in 1925. Since the author likes to believe, hopes that his entire life's work is a part of a living literature, and since "living" is motion, and "motion" is change and alteration and therefore the only alternative to motion is un-motion, stasis, death, there will be found discrepancies and contradictions in the thirty-four-year progress of this particular chronicle; the purpose of this note is simply to notify the reader that the author has already found more discrepancies and contradictions than he hopes the reader will-contradictions and discrepancies due to the fact that the author has learned, he believes, more about the human heart and its dilemma than he knew thirty-four years ago; and is sure that, having lived with them that long time, he knows the characters in this chronicle better than he did then.
The jury said "Guilty" and the Judge said "Life" but he did not hear them. He was not listening. In fact, he had not been able to listen since that first day when the Judge banged his little wooden hammer on the high desk until he, Mink, dragged his gaze back from the far door of the courtroom to see what in the world the man wanted, and he, the Judge, leaned down across the desk hollering: "You, Snopes! Did you or did not you kill Jack Houston?" and he, Mink, said, "Dont bother me now. Cant you see I'm busy?" then turned his own head to look again toward the distant door at the back of the room, himself hollering into, against, across the wall of little wan faces hemming him in: "Snopes! Flem Snopes! Anybody here that'll go and bring Flem Snopes! I'll pay you-Flem'll pay you! "
Because he had not had time to listen. In fact, that whole first trip, handcuffed to the deputy, from his jail cell to the courtroom, had been a senseless, a really outrageously foolish interference with and interruption, and each subsequent daily manacled trip and transference, of the solution to both their problems-his and the damned law's both-if they had only waited and let him alone: ??the watching, his dirty hands gripping among the grimed interstices of the barred window above the street, which had been his one, his imperious need during the long months between his incarceration and the opening of the Court.
At first, during the first few days behind the barred window, he had simply been impatient with his own impatience and-yes, he admitted it-his own stupidity. Long before the moment came when he had had to aim the gun and fire the shot, he knew that his cousin Flem, the only member of his clan with the power to and the reason to, or who could at least be expected to, extricate him from its consequences, would not be there to do it. He even knew why Flem would not be there for at least a year; Frenchman's Bend was too small: everybody in it knew everything about everybody else; they would all have seen through that Texas trip even without the hurrah and hullabaloo that Varner girl had been causing ever since she (or whoever else it was) found the first hair on her bump, not to mention just this last past spring and summer while that durn McCarron boy was snuffing and fighting everybody else off exactly like a gang of rutting dogs.
So that long before Plem married her, he, Mink, and everybody else in ten miles of the Bend knew that old Will Varner was going to have to marry her off to somebody, and that quick, if he did not want a woods colt in his back yard next grass. And when it was Flem that finally married her, he, Mink, anyway was not surprised. It was Flem, with his usual luck. All right, more than just luck then: the only man in Frenchman's Bend that ever stood up to and held his own with old Will Varner; that had done already more or less eliminated Jody, old Will's son, out of the store, and now was fixing to get hold of half of all the rest of it by being old Will's son-in-law. That just by marrying her in time to save her from dropping a bastard, Flem would not only be the rightful husband of that damn girl that had kept every man under eighty years old in Frenchman's Bend in an uproar ever since she was fifteen years old by just watching her walk past, but he had got paid for it to boot: not only the right to fumble his hand every time the notion struck him under that dress that rutted a man just thinking even about somebody else's hand doing it, but was getting a free deed to that whole Old Frenchman place for doing it.
So he knew Flem would not be there when he would need him, since he knew that Flem and his new wife would have to stay away from Frenchman's Bend at least long enough for what they would bring back with them to be able to call itself only one month old without everybody that looked at it dying of laughing. Only, when the moment finally came, when the instant finally happened when he could no longer defer having to aim the gun and pull the trigger, he had forgot that. No, that was a lie. He had not forgot it. He simply could wait no longer: Houston himself would not let him wait longer - and that too was one more injury which Jack Houston hi the very act of dying, had done him: compelled him, Mink, to kill him at a time when the only person who had the power to save him and would have had to save him whether he wanted to or not because of the ancient immutable laws of simple blood kinship, was a thousand miles away; and this time it was an irreparable injury because in the very act of committing it, Houston had escaped forever all retribution for it.
He had not forgotten that his cousin would not be there. He simply could not wait any longer. He had simply had to trust them-the Them of whom it was promised that not even a sparrow should fall unmarked. By them he did not mean that whatever-it-was that folks referred to as Old Moster. He did not believe in any Old Moster. He had seen too much in his time that, if any Old Moster existed, with eyes as sharp and power as strong as was claimed He had, He would have done something about. Besides, he, Mink, was not religious. He had not been to a church since he was fifteen years old and never aimed to go again-places which a man with a hole in his gut and a rut in his britches that he could not satisfy at home, used, by calling himself a preacher of God, to get conveniently together the biggest possible number of women that he could tempt with the reward of the one in return for the job of the other-the job of filling his hole in payment for getting theirs plugged the first time the husband went to the field and she could slip off to the bushes where the preacher was waiting; the wives coming because here was the best market they knowed of to swap a mess of fried chicken or a sweet-potato pie; the husbands coming not to interrupt the trading because the husband knowed he could not interrupt it or even keep up with it, but at least to try and find out if his wife's name would come to the head of the waiting list today or if maybe he could still finish scratching that last forty before he would have to tie her to the bedpost and hide behind the door watching; and the young folks not even bothering to enter the church a-tall for already running to be the first couple behind the nearest handy thicket bush.
He meant, simply, that them-they-it, Whichever and whatever you wanted to call it, who represented a simple fundamental justice and equity in human affairs, or else a man might just as well quit; the they, them, it, Call them what you like, which simply would not, could not harass and harry a man forever without some day, at some moment, letting him get his own just and equal licks back in return. They could harass and worry him, or they could even just sit back and watch everything go against him right along without missing a lick, almost like there was a pattern to it; just sit back and watch and (all right, why not? he-a man-didn't mind, as long as he was a man and there was a justice to it) enjoy it too; maybe in fact They were even testing him, to see if he was a man or not, man enough to take a little harassment and worry and so deserve his own licks back when his turn came. But at least that moment would come when it was Ms turn, when he had earned the right to have his own just and equal licks back, just as They had earned the right to test him and even to-enjoy the testing; the moment when they would have to prove to him that They were as much a man as he had proved to Them that he was; when he not only would have to depend on Them but had won the right to depend on Them and find Them faithful; and They dared not, They would not dare, to let him down, else it would be as hard for Them to live with themselves afterward as it had finally become for him to live with himself and still keep on taking what he had taken from Jack Houston.
So he knew that morning that Flem was not going to be there. It was simply that he could wait no longer; the moment had simply come when he and Jack Houston could, must, no longer breathe the same air. And so, lacking his cousin's presence, he must fall back on that right to depend on them which he had earned by never before in his life demanding anything of them. It began in the spring. No, it began in the fall before. No, it began a long time before that even.
It began at the very instant Houston was born already shaped for arrogance and intolerance and pride. Not at the moment when the two of them, he, Mink Snopes also, began to breathe the same north Mississippi air, because he, Mink, was not a contentious man. He had never been. It was simply that his own bad luck had all his life continually harassed and harried him into the constant and unflagging necessity of defending his own simple rights.
Though it was not until the summer before that first fall that Houston's destiny had actually and finally impinged on his, Mink's, own fate-which was another facet of the outrage: that nothing, not even they, Least of all they, Had vouchsafed him any warning of what that first encounter would end in. This was after Houston's young wife had gone into the stallion's stall hunting a hen nest and the horse had killed her and any decent man would have thought that any decent husband would never have had another stallion on the place as long as he lived. But not Houston. Houston was not only rich enough to own a blooded stallion capable of killing his wife, but arrogant and intolerant enough to defy all decency, after shooting the horse that killed her, to turn right around and buy another stallion exactly like it, maybe in case he did get married again; to act so grieving over his wife that even the neighbors did not dare knock on his front door any more, yet two or three times a week ripping up and down the road on that next murderer of a horse, with that big Bluetick hound running like a greyhound or another horse along beside it, right up to Varaer's store and not even getting down: the three of them just waiting there in the road-the arrogant intolerant man and the bad-eyed horse and the dog that bared its teeth and raised its hackles any time anybody went near it-while Houston ordered whoever was on the front gallery to step inside and fetch him out whatever it was he had come for like they were Negroes.
Until one morning when he, Mink, was walking to the store (he had no horse to ride when he had to go for a tin of snuff or a bottle of quinine or a piece of meat); he had just come over the brow of a short hill when he heard the horse behind him, coming fast and hard, and he would have given Houston the whole road if he had had time, the horse already on top of him until Houston wrenched it savagely off and past, the damn hound leaping so close it almost brushed his chest, snarling right into his face, Houston whirling the horse and holding it dancing and plunging, shouting down at him: "Why in hell did not you jump when you heard me coming? Get off the road! Do you still want him to beat your brains out too before I can get him down again? "
Well, maybe that was what they call grieving for the wife that maybe you did not actually kill her yourself and you even killed the horse that did it. But still arrogant enough or rich enough to afford to buy another one exactly like the one that did kill her. Which was all right with him, Mink, especially since all anybody had to do was just wait until sooner or later the son-of-a-bitching horse would kill Houston too; until the next thing happened which he had not counted on, planned on, not even anticipated.
It was his milk cow, the only one he owned, not being a rich man like Houston but only an independent one, asking no favors of any man, paying his own way. She-the cow-had missed some way, failed to freshen; and there he was, not only having gone a winter without milk and now faced with another whole year without it, he had also missed out on the calf for which he had had to pay a fifty-cents-cash buil fee, since the only bull in reach he could get for less than a dollar was the scrub bull belonging to a Negro who insisted on cash at the gate.
So he fed the cow all that winter, waiting for the calf which was not even there. Then he had to lead the cow the three miles back to the Negro's house, not to claim the return of the fifty cents but only to claim a second stand from the bull, which the Negro refused to permit without the payment in advance of another fifty cents, he, Mink, standing in the yard cursing the Negro until the Negro went back into the house and shut the door, Mink standing in the empty yard cursing the Negro and his family inside the blank house until he had exhausted himself enough to lead the still-barren cow the three miles again back home.
Then he had to keep the barren and worthless cow up under fence while she exhausted his own meager pasture, then he had to feed her out of his meager crib during the rest of that summer and fall, since the local agreement was that all stock would be kept up until all crops were out of the field. Which meant November before he could turn her out for the winter. And even then he had to divert a little feed to her from his winter's meat hogs, to keep her in the habit of coming more or less back home at night; until she had been misssing three or four days and he finally located her in Houston's pasture with his beef herd.
In fact, he was already in the lane leading to Houston's house, the coiled plowline in his hand, when without even knowing he was going to and without even pausing or breaking stride he had turned about, already walking back toward home, rapidly stuffing the coiled rope inside his shirt where it would be concealed, not to return to the paintless repairless tenant cabin in which he lived, but simply to find privacy in which to think, stopping presently to sit on a log beside the road while he realised the full scope of what had just dawned before him.
By not claiming the worthless cow yet, he would not only winter her, he would winter her twice - ten times - as well as he himself could afford to. He would not only let Houston winter her (Houston, a man not only rich enough to be able to breed and raise beef cattle, but rich enough to keep a Negro to do nothing else save feed and tend them - a Negro to whom Houston furnished a better house to live in than the one that he, Mink, a white man with a wife and two daughters, lived in) but when he would reclaim the cow in the spring she would have come in season again and, running with Houston's beef herd-bull, would now be carrying a calf which would not only freshen her for milk but would itself be worth money as grade beef where the offspring of the Negro's scrub bull would have been worth almost nothing.
Naturally he would have to be prepared for the resulting inevitable questions; Frenchman's Bend was too little, too damn little for a man to have any privacy about what he did, let alone about what he owned or lacked. It did not even take four days. It was at Varner's store, where he would walk down to the crossroads and back every day, giving them a chance to go ahead and get it over with. Until finally one said - he did not remember who; it did not matter: "Aint you located your cow yet?"
"What cow?" he said. The other said, "Jack Houston says for you to come and get that bone-rack of yours out of his feed lot; he's tired of boarding it."
"Oh, that," he said. "That aint my cow any more. I sold that cow last summer to one of the Gowrie boys up at Caledonia Chapel."
"I'm glad to hear that," the other said. "Because if I was you and my cow was in Jack Houston's feed lot, I would take my rope and go and get it, without even noticing myself doing it, let alone letting Jack Houston notice me. I do not believe I would interrupt him right now even to say Much obliged. " Because all Frenchman's Bend knew Houston: sulking and sulling in his house all alone by himself since the stallion killed his wife four years ago. Like nobody before him had ever lost a wife, even when, for whatever incomprehensible reason the husband could have had, he did not want to get shut of her. Sulking and sulling alone on that big place with two nigger servants, the man and the woman to cook, and the stallion and the big Bluetick hound that was as high-nosed and intolerant and surly as Houston himself - a durn surly sullen son of a bitch that did not even know he was lucky: rich, not only rich enough to afford a wife to whine and nag and steal his pockets ragged of every dollar he made, but rich enough to do without a wife if he wanted: rich enough to be abie to hire a woman to cook his victuals instead of having to marry her. Rich enough to hire another nigger to get up in his stead on the cold mornings and go out in the wet and damp to feed not only the beef cattle which he sold at the top fat prices because he could afford to hold them till then, but that blooded stallion too, and even that damn hound running beside the horse he thundered up and down the road on, until a fellow that never had anything but his own two legs to travel on, would have to jump clean off the road into the bushes or the son-of-a-bitching horse would have killed him too with its shod feet and left him laying there in the ditch for the son-of-a-bitching hound to eat before Houston would even have reported it.
All right, if Houston was in too high and mighty a mood to be said much obliged to, he, Mink, for one was not going to break in on him uninvited. Not that he did not owe a much obliged to something somewhere. This was a week later, then a month later, then Christmas had passed and the hard wet dreary winter had set in. Each afternoon, in the slicker held together with baling wire and automobile tire patching which was the only whiter outer garment he owned over his worn patched cotton overalls, he would walk up the muddy road in the dreary and fading afternoons to watch Houston's pedigreed beef herd , his own sorry animal among them, move, not even hurrying, toward and into the barn which was warmer and tighter against the weather than the cabin he lived in, to be fed by the hired Negro who wore warmer clothing than any he and his family possessed, cursing into the steamy vapor of his own breathing, cursing the Negro for his black skin inside the warmer garments than his, a white man's, cursing the rich feed devoted to cattle instead of humans even though his own animal shared it; cursing above all the unaware white man through or because of whose wealth such a condition could obtain, cursing the fact that his very revenge and vengeance - what he himself believed to be simple justice and inalienable rights - could not be done at one stroke but instead must depend on the slow incrementation of feed converted to weight, plus the uncontrollable, even unpredictable, love mood of the cow and the long subsequent nine months of gestation; cursing his own condition that the only justice available to him must be this prolonged and passive one.
That was it. Prolongation. Not only the anguish of hope deferred, not even the outrage of simple justice deferred, but the knowledge that, even when the blow fell on Houston, it would cost him, Mink, eight dollars in. cash - the eight dollars which he would have to affirm that the imaginary purchaser of the cow had paid him for the animal in order to make good the lie that he had sold it, which, when he reclaimed the cow in the spring, he would have to give to Houston as an earnest that until that moment he really believed he had sold the animal - or at least had established eight dollars as its value - when he went to Houston and told him how the purchaser had come to him , Mink, only that morning and told him the cow had escaped from the lot the same night he had bought it and brought it home, and so reclaimed the eight dollars he had paid for it, thus establishing the cow not only in Houston's arrogant contempt but in the interested curiosity of the rest of Frenchman's Bend too, as having now cost him, Mink, sixteen dollars to reclaim his own property.
That was the outrage: the eight dollars. The fact that he could not even have wintered the cow for eight dollars, let alone put on it the weight of flesh he could see with his own eyes it now carried, did not count. What mattered was, he would have to give Houston, who did not need it and would not even miss the feed the cow had eaten, the eight dollars with which he, Mink, could have bought a gallon of whiskey for Christmas, plus a dollar or two of the gewgaw finery his wife and his two daughters were forever whining at him for.
But there was no help for it. And even then, his pride was that he was not reconciled. Not he to be that meager and niggling and puny as meekly to accept something just because he did not see yet how he could help it. More, since this too merely bolstered the anger and rage at the injustice: that he would have to go fawning and even cringing a little when he went to recover his cow; would have to waste a lie for the privilege of giving eight dollars which he wanted, must sacrifice to spare, to a man who did not even need them, would not even miss their lack, did not even know yet that he was going to receive them. The moment, the day at last at the end of winter when by local custom the livestock which had run loose in the skeletoned cornfields since fall, must be taken up by their owners and put inside fences so the land could be plowed and planted again; one afternoon, evening rather, waiting until his cow had received that final feeding with the rest of Houston's herd before he approached the feed lot, the worn plowline coiled over his arm and the meager lump of worn dollar bills and nickels and dimes and quarters wadded into his overall pocket, not needing to fawn and cringe yet because only the Negro with his hayfork would be in the lot now, the rich man himself in the house, the warm kitchen, with in his hand a toddy not of the stinking gagging homemade corn such as he, Mink, would have had to buy with his share of the eight dollars if he could have kept them, but of good red chartered whiskey ordered out of Memphis. Not having to fawn and cringe yet: just saying, level and white-man, to the nigger paused in the door to the feeding shed to look back at him: "Hidy. I see you got my cow there. Put this rope on her and I'll get her outen your way, "the Negro looking back at him a second longer then gone, on through the shed toward the house; not coming back to take the rope, which he, Mink, had not expected anyway, but gone first to tell the white man, to know what to do. Which was exactly what he, Mink, had expected, leaning his cold-raw, cold-reddened wrists which even the frayed slicker sleeves failed to cover, on the top rail of the white-painted fence. Oh yes, Houston with the toddy of good red whiskey hi his hand and likely with his boots off and his stocking feet in the oven of the stove, warming for supper, who now, cursing, would have to withdraw his feet and drag on again the cold wet muddy rubber and come back to the lot.
Which Houston did; the very bang of the kitchen door and the squish and slap of the gum boots across the back yard and into the lot sounding startled and outraged. Then he came on through the shed too, the Negro about ten feet behind him. "Hidy, Jack," Mink said. "Too bad to have to roust you out into the cold and wet again. That nigger could have tended to it. I jest learned today you wintered my cow for me. If your nigger'll put this plowline on her, I'll get her out of your way. "
"I thought you sold that cow to Nub Cowrie," Houston said.
"So did I," Mink said. "Until Nub rid up this morning on a mule and said that cow broke out of his lot the same night he got her home and he aint seen her since, and collected back the eight dollars he paid me for her," already reaching into his pocket, the meager wad of frayed notes and coins in his hand. "So, since eight dollars seems to be the price of this cow, I reckon I owe you that for wintering her. Which makes her a sixteen-dollar cow now, dont it, whether she knows it or not. So here. Take your money and let your nigger put this plowline on her and I'll-- "
"That cow was not worth eight dollars last fall," Houston said. "But she's worth a considerable more now. She's eaten more than sixteen dollars 'worth of my feed. Not to mention my young bull topped her last week. It was last week, was not it, Henry?" he said to the Negro.
"Yes sir," the Negro said. "Last Tuesday. I put it on the book."
"If you had jest notified me sooner I'd have saved the strain on your bull and that nigger and his pitchfork too," Mink said. He said to the Negro: "Here. Take this rope--"
"Hold it," Houston said; he was reaching into his pocket too. "You yourself established the price of that cow at eight dollars. All right. I'll buy her."
"You yourself jest finished establishing the fact that she has done went up since then," Mink said. "I'm trying right now to give the rest of sixteen for her. So evidently I would not take sixteen, let alone jest eight. So take your money. And if your nigger's too wore out to put this rope on her, I 'll come in and do it myself. " Now he even began to climb the fence.
"Hold it," Houston said again. He said to the Negro: "What would you say she's worth now?"
"She'd bring thirty," the Negro said. "Maybe thirty-five."
"You hear that?" Houston said.
"No," Mink said, still climbing the fence. "I dont listen to niggers: I tell them. If he dont want to put this rope on my cow, tell him to get outen my way."
"Dont cross that fence, Snopes," Houston said.
"Well well," Mink said, one leg over the top rail, the coil of rope dangling from one raw-red hand, "dont tell me you bring a pistol along ever time you try to buy a cow. Maybe you even tote it to put a cottonseed or a grain of corn in the ground too? " It was tableau: Mink with one leg over the top rail, Houston standing inside the fence, the pistol hanging in one hand against his leg, the Negro not moving either, not looking at anything, the whites of his eyes just showing a little. "If you had sent me word, maybe I could a brought a pistol too."
"All right," Houston said. He laid the pistol carefully on the top of the fence post beside him. "Put that rope down. Get over the fence at your post. I'll back off one post and you can count three and we'll see who uses it to trade with."
"Or maybe your nigger can do the counting," Mink said.
"All he's got to do is say Three. Because I aint got no nigger with me neither. Evidently a man needs a tame nigger and a pistol both to trade livestock with you." He swung Ms leg back to the ground outside the fence. "So I reckon I'll jest step over to the store and have a word with Uncle Billy and the constable. Maybe I ought to done that at first, saved a walk up here in the cold. I would a suh-gested leaving my plowline here, to save toting it again, only likely you would be charging me thirty-five dollars to get it back, since that seems to be your bottom price for anything in your lot that dont belong to you. " He was leaving now. "So long then. In case you do make any eight-dollar stock deals, be sho you dont take no wooden nickels."
He walked away steadily enough but in such a thin furious rage that for a while he could not even see, and with his ears ringing as if someone had fired a shotgun just over bis head. In fact he had expected the rage too and now, in solitude and privacy, was the best possible time to let it exhaust itself. Because he knew now he had anticipated something like what had happened and he would need his wits about him. He had known by instinct that his own outrageous luck would invent something like this, so that even the fact that going to Varner, the justice of the peace, for a paper for the constable to serve on Houston to recover the cow would cost him another two dollars and a half, was not really a surprise to him: it was simply them again, still testing, trying him to see just how much he could bear and would stand.
So, in a way, he was not really surprised at what happened next either. It was his own fault in a way: he had simply underestimated them: The whole matter of taking the eight dollars to Houston and putting the rope on the cow and leading it back home had seemed too simple, too puny for Them to bother with. But he was wrong; They were not done yet. Varner would not even issue the paper; whereupon two days later there were seven of them, counting the Negro - himself, Houston, Varner and the constable and two professional cattle buyers - standing along the fence of Houston's feed lot while the Negro led his cow out for the two experts to examine her.
"Well?" Varner said at last.
"I'd give thirty-five," the first trader said.
"Bred to a paper bull, I might go to thirty-seven and a half," the second said.
"Would you go to forty?" Varner said.
"No," the second said. "She might not a caught."
"That's why I would not even match thirty-seven and a half," the first said.
"All right," Varner said - a tall, gaunt, narrow-hipped, heavily moustached man who looked like what his father had been: one of Forrest's cavalrymen. "Call it thirty-seven and a half then. So we'll split the difference then." He was looking at Mink now. "When you pay Houston eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents, you can have your cow. Only you have not got eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents, have you?"
He stood there, his raw-red wrists which the slicker did not cover lying quiet on the top rail of the fence, his eyes quite blind again and his ears ringing again as though somebody had fired a shotgun just over his head, and on his face that expression faint and gentle and almost like smiling. "No," he said.
"Would not his cousin Flem let him have it?" the second trader said. Nobody bothered to answer that at all, not even to remind them that Flem was still in Texas on his honeymoon, where he and his wife had been since the marriage last August.
"Then he'll have to work it out," Varner said. He was talking to Houston now. "What have you got that he can do?"
"I'm going to fence in another pasture," Houston said. "I'll pay him fifty cents a day. He can make thirty-seven days and from light till noon on the next one digging post holes and stringing wire. What about the cow? Do I keep her, or does Quick" (Quick was the constable) "take her?"
"Do you want Quick to?" Varner said.
"No," Houston said. "She's been here so long now she might get homesick. Besides, if she's here Snopes can see her every day and keep his spirits up about what he's really working for."
"All right, all right," Varner said quickly. "It's settled now. I do not want any more of that now."
That was what he had to do. And his pride still was that he would not be, would never be, reconciled to it. Not even if he were to lose the cow, the animal itself to vanish from the entire equation and leave him in what might be called peace. Which - eliminating the cow - he could have done himself. More: he could have got eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents for doing it, which, with the eight dollars Houston had refused to accept, would have made practically twenty-seven dollars, more cash at one time than he had seen in he could not remember when, since even with the fall sale of his bale or two of cotton, the subtraction of Varner's landlord's share, plus his furnish bill at Varner's store, barely left him that same eight or ten dollars in cash with which he had believed in vain that he could redeem the cow.
In fact, Houston himself made that suggestion. It was the second or third day of digging the post holes and setting the heavy locust posts in them; Houston came up on the stallion and sat looking down at him. He did not even pause, let alone look up.
"Look," Houston said. "Look at me." He looked up then, not pausing. Houston's hand was already extended; he, Mink, could see the actual money in it. "Varner said eighteen seventy-five. All right, here it is. Take it and go on home and forget about that cow." Now he did not even look up any longer, heaving onto his shoulder the post that anyway looked heavier and more solid than he did and dropping it into the hole, tamping the dirt home with the reversed shovel handle so that he only had to hear the stallion turn and go away. Then it was the fourth day; again he only needed to hear the stallion come up and stop, not even looking up when Houston said, "Snopes," then again, "Snopes," then he said, "Mink," he - Mink - not even looking up , let alone pausing while he said: "I hear you."
"Stop this now. You got to break your land for your crop. You got to make your living. Go on home and get your seed in the ground and then come back."
"I aint got time to make a living," he said, not even pausing. "I got to get my cow back home."
The next morning it was not Houston on the stallion but Varner himself in his buckboard. Though he, Mink, did not know yet that it was Varner himself who was suddenly afraid, afraid for the peace and quiet of the community which he held in his iron usurious hand, buttressed by the mortgages and liens in the vast iron safe in his store. And now he, Mink, did look up and saw money in the closed fist resting on Varner's knee.
"I've put this on your furnish bill for this year," Varner said. "I just come from your place. You aint broke a furrow yet. Pick up them tools and take this money and give it to Jack and take that damn cow on home and get to plowing."
Though this was only Varner; he could pause and even lean on the post-hole digger now. "Have you heard any complaint from me about that-ere cow court judgment of yourn?" he said.
"No," Varner said.
"Then get out of my way and tend to your business while I tend to mine," he said. Then Varner was out of the buck-board - a man already old enough to be called Uncle Billy by the debtors who fawned on him, yet agile too: enough so to jump down from the buckboard in one motion, the lines in one hand and the whip in the other.
"God damn you," he said, "pick up them tools and go on home. I'll be back before dark, and if I dont find a furrow run by then, I'm going to dump every sorry stick you've got in that house out in the road and rent it to somebody else tomorrow morning. "
And he, Mink, looking at him, with on his face that faint gentle expression almost like smiling. "Likely you would do jest exactly that," he said.
"You're god-damned right I will," Varner said. "Get on. Now. This minute."
"Why, sholy," he said. "Since that's the next court judgment in this case, and a law-abiding feller always listens to a court judgment." He turned.
"Here," Varner said to his back. "Take this money."
"Aint it?" he said, going on.
By midafternoon he had broken the better part of an acre. When he swung the plow at the turn-row he saw the buckboard coming up the lane. It carried two this time, Varner and the constable, Quick, and it was moving at a snail's pace because, on a lead rope at the rear axle, was his cow. He did not hurry; he ran out that furrow too, then unhitched the traces and tied the mule to the fence and only then walked on to where the two men still sat in the buckboard, watching him.
"I paid Houston the eighteen dollars and here's your cow," Varner said. "And if ever again I hear of you or anything belonging to you on Jack Houston's land, I'm going to send you to jail."
"And seventy-five cents," he said. "Or maybe them six bits evaporated. That cow's under a court judgment. I cant accept it until that judgment is satisfied."
"Lon," Varner said to the constable in a voice flat and almost gentle, "put that cow in the lot yonder and take that rope off it and get to hell back in this buggy."
"Lon," Mink said in a voice just as gentle and just as flat, "if you put that cow in my lot I'll get my shotgun and kill her."
Nor did he watch them. He went back to the mule and untied the lines from the fence and hooked up the traces and ran another furrow, his back now to the house and the lane, so that not until he swung the mule at the turn-row did he see for a moment the buckboard going back down the lane at that snail's pace matched to the plodding cow. He plowed steadily on until dark, until his supper of the coarse fatback and cheap molasses and probably weevilly flour which, even after he had eaten it, would still be the property of Will Varner until he, Mink, had ginned and sold the cotton next fall which he had not even planted yet.
An hour later, with a coal-oil lantern to Sight dimly the slow lift and thrust of the digger, he was back at Houston's fence. He had not lain down nor even stopped moving, working, since daylight this morning; when daylight came again he would not have slept in twenty-four hours; when the sun did rise on him he was back in his own field with the mule and plow, stopping only for dinner at noon, then back to the field again, plowing again - or so he thought until he waked to find himself lying in the very furrow he had just run, beneath the canted handles of the still-bedded plow, the anchored mule still standing in the traces and the sun just going down.
Then supper again like last night's meal and this morning's breakfast too, and carrying the lighted lantern he once more crossed Houston's pasture toward where he had left the post-hole digger. He did not even see Houston sitting on the pile of waiting posts until Houston stood up, the shotgun cradled in his left arm. "Go back." Houston said. "Dont never come on my land again after sundown. If you're going to kill yourself, it wont be here. Go back now. Maybe I cant stop you from working out that cow by daylight but I reckon I can after dark."
But he could stand that too. Because he knew the trick of it. He had learned that the hard way; himself taught that to himself through simple necessity: that a man can bear anything by simply and calmly refusing to accept it, be reconciled to it, give up to it. He could even sleep at night now. It was not so much that he had time to sleep now, as because he now had a kind of peace, freed of hurry and haste. He broke the rest of his rented land now, then opened out the middles while the weather held good, using the bad days on Houston's fence, marking off one day less which meant fifty cents less toward the recovery of his cow. But with no haste now, no urgency; when spring finally came and the ground warmed for the reception of seed and he saw before him a long hiatus from the fence because of the compulsion of his own crop, he faced it calmly, getting his corn- and cotton-seed from Varner's store and planting his ground, making a better job of sowing than he had ever done before, since all he had to do now was to fill the time until he could get back to the fence and with his own sweat dissolve away another of the half-dollars . Because patience was his pride too: never to be reconciled since by this means he could beat Them; They might be stronger for a moment than he but nobody, no man, no nothing could wait longer than he could wait when nothing else but waiting would do, would work, would serve him.
Then the sun set at last on the day when he could put down patience also along with the digger and the stretchers and what remained of the wire. Houston would know it was the last day too of course. Likely Houston had spent the whole day expecting him to come trotting up the lane to get the cow the minute the sun was below the western trees; likely Houston had spent the whole day from sunrise on in the kitchen window to see him, Mink, show up for that last day's work already carrying the plowline to lead the cow home with. In fact, throughout that whole last day while he dug the last holes and tamped into them not the post at all but the last of that outrage which They had used old Will Varner himself as their tool to try him with, to see how much he really could stand, he could imagine Houston hunting vainly up and down the lane, trying every bush and corner to find where he must have hidden the rope.
Which - the rope - he had not even brought yet, working steadily on until the sun was completely down and no man could say the full day was not finished and done, and only then gathering up the digger and shovel and stretchers, to carry them back to the feed lot and set them neatly and carefully in the angle of the fence where the nigger or Houston or anybody else that wanted to look could not help but see them, himself not glancing even once toward Houston's house, not even glancing once at the cow which no man could now deny was his, before walking on back down the lane toward his cabin two miles away.
He ate his supper, peacefully and without haste, not even listening for the cow and whoever would be leading it this time. It might even be Houston himself. Though on second thought, Houston was like him; Houston did not scare easy either. It would be old Will Varner's alarm and concern sending the constable to bring the cow back, now that the judgment was worked out to the last penny, he, Mink, chewing his fatback and biscuits and drinking his coffee with that same gentle expression almost like smiling, imagining Quick cursing and stumbling up the lane with the lead rope for having to do the job in the dark when he too would rather be at home with his shoes off eating supper; Mink was already rehearsing, phrasing what he would tell him: "I worked out eighteen and a half days. It takes a light and a dark both to make one of them, and this one aint up until daylight tomorrow morning. Just take that cow back where you and Will Varner put it eighteen and a half days ago, and I'll come in the morning and get it. And remind that nigger to feed early, so I wont have to wait. "
But he heard nothing. And only then did he realise that he had actually expected the cow, had counted on its return you might say. He had a sudden quick light shock of fear, terror, discovering now how spurious had been that peace he thought was his since his run-in with Houston and the shotgun at the fence line that night two months ago; so light a hold on what he had thought was peace that he must be constantly on guard now, since almost anything apparently could throw him back to that moment when Will Varner had told him he would have to work out eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents at fifty cents a day to gain possession of his own cow. Now he would have to go to the lot and look to make sure Quick had not put the cow in it unheard and then run, fled; he would have to light a lantern and go out in the dark to look for what he knew he would not find. And as if that was not enough, he would have to explain to his wife where he was going with the lantern. Sure enough, he had to do it, using the quick hard unmannered word when she said, "Where you going? I thought Jack Houston warned you," - adding, not for the crudeness but because she too would not let him alone: "Lessen of course you will step outside and do it for me."
"You nasty thing!" she cried. "Using words like that in front of the girls!"
"Sholy," he said. "Or maybe you could send them. Maybe both of them together could make up for one a-dult. Though from the way they eat, ara one of them alone ought to do hit."
He went to the barn. The cow was not there of course, as he had known. He was glad of it. The whole thing - realising that evea if one of them brought the cow home, he would still have to go out to the barn to make sure - had been good for him, teaching him, before any actual harm had been done, just exactly what They were up to: to fling, jolt, surprise him off balance and so ruin him: Who could not beat him in any other way: could not beat him with money or its lack, could not outwait him; could beat him only by catching him off balance and so topple him back into that condition of furious blind earless rage where he had no sense.
But he was all right now. He had actually gained; when he took his rope tomorrow morning and went to get his cow, it would not be Quick but Houston himself who would say, "Why did not you come last night? The eighteenth-and-a-half day was up at dark last night "; it would be Houston himself to whom he would answer: "It takes a light and a dark both to make a day. That-ere eighteen-and-a-half day is up this morning - providing that delicate nigger of yourn has done finished feeding her. "
He slept. He ate breakfast; sunrise watched him walk without haste up the lane to Houston's feed lot, the plow-line coiled on his arm, to lean his folded arms on the top rail of the fence, the coiled rope loosely dangling, watching the Negro with his pitchfork and Houston also for a minute or two before they saw him. He said: "Mawnin, Jack. I come by for that-ere court-judgment cow if you'll kindly have your nigger to kindly put this here rope on her if he'll be so kindly obliging," then still leaning there while Houston came across the lot and stopped about ten feet away.
"You're not through yet," Houston said. "You owe two more days."
"Well well," he said, easily and peacefully, almost gently. "I reckon a man with a lot full of paper bulls and heifers, not to mention a half a mile of new pasture fence he got built free for nothing, might get mixed up about a little thing not no more important than jest dollars, especially jest eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents of them. But I jest own one eight-dollar cow, or what I always thought was jest a eight-dollar cow. I aint rich enough not to be able to count up to eighteen seventy-five . "
"I'm not talking about eighteen dollars," Houston said. "I'm--"
"And seventy-five cents," Mink said.
"--talking About nineteen dollars. You owe one dollar more."
He did not move; his face did not change; he just said: "What one dollar more?"
"The pound fee," Houston said. "The law says that when anybody has to take up a stray animal and the owner dont claim it before dark that same day, the man that took it up is entitled to a one-dollar pound fee."
He stood quite still; his hand did not even tighten on the coiled rope. "So that was why you were so quick that day to save Lon the trouble of taking her to his lot," he said. "To get that extra dollar."
"Damn the extra dollar," Houston said. "Damn Quick too. He was welcome to her. I kept her instead to save you having to walk all the way to Quick's house to get her. Not to mention I have fed her every day, which Quick would not have done. The digger and shovel and stretchers are in the corner yonder where you left them last night. Any time you want to-- "
But he had already turned, already walking, peacefully and steadily, carrying the coiled rope, back down the lane to the road, not back toward his home but in the opposite direction toward Varner's store four miles away. He walked through the bright sweet young summer morning between the burgeoning woodlands where the dogwood and redbud and wild plum had long since bloomed and gone, beside the planted fields standing strongly with corn and cotton, some of it almost as good as his own small patches (obviously the people who planted these had not had the leisure and peace he had thought he had to sow in); treading peacefully the rife and vernal earth boiling with life - the frantic flash and glint and crying of birds, a rabbit bursting almost beneath his feet, so young and thin as to have but two dimensions, unless the third one could be speed-- on to Varner's store.
The gnawed wood gallery above the gnawed wood steps should be vacant now. The overalled men who after laying-by would squat or stand all day against the front wall or inside the store itself, should be in the field too today, ditching or mending fences or running the first harrows and shovels and cultivators among the stalks. The store was too empty, in fact. He thought Flem was jest here-because Flem was not there; he, Mink, knew if anyone did that that honeymoon would have to last until they could come back home and tell Frenchman's Bend that the child they would bring with them had not been born sooner than this past May at the earliest. But even if it had not been that, it would have been something else; his cousin's absence when he was needed was just one more test, harassment, enragement They tried him with, not to see if he would survive it because They had no doubt of that, but simply for the pleasure of watching him have to do something extra there was no reason whatever for him to have to do.
Only Varner was not there either. Mink had not expected that. He had taken it for granted that They certainly would not miss this chance: to have the whole store crammed with people who should have been busy in the field - loose idle ears all strained to hear what he had come to say to Will Varner. But even Varner was gone; there was nobody in the store but Jody Varner and Lump Snopes, the clerk Flem had substituted in when he quit to get married last summer.
"If he went in to town, he wont be back before night," Mink said.
"Not to town," Jody said. "He went over to look at a mill on Punkin Creek. He said he'll be back by dinner time."
"He wont be back until night," Mink said.
"All right," Jody said. "Then you can go back home and come back tomorrow."
So he had no choice. He could have walked the five miles back home and then the five more back to the store in just comfortable time before noon, if he had wanted a walk. Or he could stay near the store until noon and wait there until old Varner would finally turn up just about in time for supper, which he would do, since naturally They would not miss that chance to make him lose a whole day. Which would mean he would have to put in half of one night digging Houston's post holes since he would have to complete the two days by noon of day after tomorrow in order to finish what he would need to do since he would have to make one trip in to town himself.
Or he could have walked back home just in time to eat his noon meal and then walk back, since he would already have lost a whole day anyway. But They would certainly not miss that chance; as soon as he was out of sight, the buckboard would return from Punkin Creek and Varner would get out of it. So he waited, through noon when, as soon as Jody left to go home to dinner, Lump hacked off a segment of hoop cheese and took a handful of crackers from the barrel.
"Aint you going to eat no dinner?" Lump said. "Will wont miss it."
"No," Mink said.
"I'll put it on your furnish then, if you're all that tender about one of Will Varner's nickels," Lump said.
"I'm not hungry," he said. But there was one thing he could be doing, one preparation he could be making while he waited, since it was not far. So he went there, to the place he had already chosen, and did what was necessary since he already knew what Varner was going to tell him, and returned to the store and yes, at exactly midafternoon, just exactly right to exhaust the balance of the whole working day, the buckboard came up and Varner got out and was tying the lines to the usual gallery post when Mink came up to him.
"All right," Varner said. "Now what?"
"A little information about the Law," he said. "This here pound-fee law."
"What?" Varner said.
"That's right," he said, peaceful and easy, his face quiet and gentle as smiling. "I thought I had finished working out them thirty-seven and a half four-bit days at sundown last night. Only when I went this morning to get my cow, it seems like I aint done quite yet, that I owe two more days for the pound fee. "
"Hell fire," Varner said. He stood over the smaller man, cursing. "Did Houston tell you that?"
"That's right," he said.
"Hell fire," Varner said again. He dragged a huge worn leather wallet strapped like a suitcase from his hip pocket and took a dollar bill from it. "Here," he said.
"So the Law does say I got to pay another dollar before I can get my cow."
"Yes," Varner said. "If Houston wants to claim it. Take this dollar--"
"I do not need it," he said, already turning. "Me and Houston do not deal in money, we deal in post holes. I jest wanted to know the Law. And if that's the Law, I reckon there aint nothing for a law-abiding feller like me to do but jest put up with it. Because if folks dont put up with the Law, what's the use of all the trouble and expense of having it? "
"Wait," Varner said. "Dont you go back there. Dont you go near Houston's place. You go on home and wait. I'll bring your cow to you as soon as I get hold of Quick."
"That's all right," he said. "Maybe I aint got as many post holes in me as Houston has dollars, but I reckon I got enough for just two more days."
"Mink!" Varner said. "Mink! Come back here!" But he was gone. But there was no hurry now; the day was already ruined; until tomorrow morning, when he was in Houston's new pasture until sundown. This time he hid the tools under a bush as he always did when he would return tomorrow, and went home and ate the sowbelly and flour gravy and undercooked biscuits; they had one timepiece, the tin alarm clock which he set for eleven and rose again then; he had left coffee in the pot and some of the meat cold in the congealed skillet and two biscuits so it was almost exactly midnight when the savage baying of the Bluetick hound brought the Negro to his door and he, Mink, said, "Hit's Mister Snopes. Reporting for work. Hit's jest gone exactly midnight for the record. " Because he would have to do this in order to quit at noon. And They - Houston - were still watching him because when the sun said noon and he carried the tools back to the fence corner, his cow was already tied there in a halter, which he removed and tied his plowline around her horns and this time he did not lead her but, himself at a trot, drove her trotting before him by lashing her across the hocks with the end of the rope.
Because he was short for time, to get her back home and into the lot. Nor would he have time to eat his dinner, again today, with five miles still to do, even straight across country, to catch the mail carrier before he left Vainer's store at two oclock for Jefferson, since Varner did not carry ten-gauge buckshot shells. But his wife and daughters were at the table, which at least saved argument, the necessity to curse them silent or perhaps even to have actually to strike, hit his wife, in order to go to the hearth and dig out the loose brick and take from the snuff tin behind it the single five-dollar bill which through all vicissitudes they kept there as the boat owner will sell or pawn or lose all his gear but will still cling on to one life preserver or ring buoy. Because he had five shells for the ancient ten-gauge gun, ranging from bird shot to one Number Two for turkey or geese. But he had had them for years, he did not remember how long; besides, even if he were guaranteed that they would fire, Houston deserved better than this.
So he folded the bill carefully into the fob pocket of his overalls and caught the mail carrier and by four that afternoon Jefferson was in sight across the last valley and by simple precaution, a simple instinctive preparatory gesture, he thrust his fingers into the fob pocket , then suddenly dug frantically, himself outwardly immobile, into the now vacant pocket where he knew he had folded and stowed carefully the bill, then sat immobile beside the mail carrier while the buckboard began to descend the hill. I got to do it he thought so I might as well and then said quietly aloud, "All right. I reckon I'll take that-ere bill now."
"What?" the carrier said.
"That-ere five-dollar bill that was in my pocket when I got in this buggy back yonder at Varner's."
"Why, you little son of a bitch," the carrier said. He pulled the buckboard off to the side of the road and wrapped the lines around the whip stock and got out and came around to Mink's side of the vehicle. "Get out," he said.
Now I got to fight him Mink thought and I aint got no knife and likely he will beat me to ere a stick I try to grab. So I might jest as well get it over with and got out of the buckboard, the carrier giving him time to get his puny and vain hands up. Then a shocking blow which Mink did not even feel very much, aware instead rather merely of the hard ungiving proneness of the earth, ground against his back, lying there, peaceful almost, watching the carrier get back into the buckboard and drive on.
Then he got up. He thought I not only could a saved a trip, I might still had them five dollars. But for only a moment; he was already in the road, already walking steadily on toward town as if he knew what he was doing. Which he did, he had already remembered: two, three years ago it was when Solon Quick or Vernon Tull or whoever it was had seen the bear, the last bear in that part of the county, when it ran across Varner's mill dam and into the thicket, and how the hunt had been organised and somebody rode a horse in to Jefferson to get hold of Ike McCaslin and Walter Ewell, the best hunters in the county, and they came out with their buckshot big-game shells and the bear and deer hounds and set the standers and drove the bottom where the bear had been seen but it was gone by then. So he knew what to do, or at least where to try, until he crossed the Square and entered the hardware store where McCaslin was junior partner and saw McCaslin's eyes. Mink thought quietly Hit wont do no good. He has done spent too much time in the woods with deer and bears and panthers that either are or they aint, right quick and now and not no shades between. He wont know how to believe a He even if I could tell him one. But he had to try.
"What do you want with two buckshot shells?" McCaslin said.
"A nigger came in this morning and said he seen that bear's foot in the mud at Blackwater Slough."
"No," McCaslin said. "What do you want with buckshot shells?"
"I can pay you soon as I gin my cotton," Mink said. "No," McCaslin said. "I aint going to let you have them. There aint anything out there at Frenchman's Bend you need to shoot buckshot at."
It was not that he was hungry so much, even though he had not eaten since midnight: it was simply that he would have to pass the time some way until tomorrow morning when he would find out whether the mail carrier would take him back to Varner's store or not. He knew a small dingy back-street eating place owned by the sewing-machine agent, Ratliff, who was well known in Frenchman's Bend, where, if he had a half a dollar or even forty cents, he could have had two hamburgers and a nickel's worth of bananas and still had twenty-five cents left.
For that he could have had a bed in the Commercial Hotel (an unpainted two-storey frame building on a back street also; in two years his cousin Flem would own it though of course Mink did not know that now. In fact, he had not even begun to think about his cousin yet, not once again after that moment when he entered Varner's store yesterday morning, where until his and his wife's departure for Texas last August, the first object he would have seen on entering it would have been Flem) but all he had to do was to pass time until eight oclock tomorrow morning and if it cost cash money just to pass time he would have been in the poorhouse years ago.
Now it was evening, the lights had come on around the Square, the lights from the drugstore falling outward across the pavement, staining the pavement with dim rose and green from the red- and green-liquid-filled jars in the windows; he could see the soda fountain and the young people, young men and girls in their city clothes eating and drinking the gaudy sweet concoctions, and he could watch them, the couples, young men and girls and old people and children, all moving in one direction. Then he heard music, a piano, loud. He followed also and saw in a vacant lot the big high plank stockade with its entrance beside the lighted ticket window: the Airdome they called it; he had seen it before from the outside by day while in town for Saturdays, and three times at night too, lighted as now. But never the inside because on the three previous times he had been in Jefferson after dark he had ridden a mule in from Frenchman's Bend with companions of his age and sex to take the early train to a Memphis brothel with in his pocket the few meager dollars he had wrenched as though by main strength from his bare livelihood, as he had likewise wrenched the two days he would be gone from earning the replacement of them, and in his blood a need far more urgent and passionate than a moving-picture show.
Though this time he could have spared the dime it would cost. Instead he stood a little aside while the line of patrons crept slowly past the ticket window until the last one passed inside. Then the glare and glow of light from beyond the fence blinked out and into a cold flickering; approaching the fence and laying his eye to a crack he could see through the long vertical interstice a section, a fragment - the dark row of motionless heads above which the whirring cone of light burst, shattered into the passionate and evanescent posturings where danced and flickered the ephemeral hopes and dreams, tantalising and inconsequent since he coul
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