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All through the afternoon upon the veranda Gant told the story, summoning the neighbors and calling upon Eugene to perform. Eugene heard clearly all that was said that day: Thus, later, he saw the first two years of his life in brilliant and isolated flashes. His second Christmas he remembered vaguely as a period of great festivity: With the miraculous habitude children acquire, it seemed that he had known Christmas forever.
He was conscious of sunlight, rain, the leaping fire, his crib, the grim jail of winter: Her hair was braided in two long hanks down her back: She really scrubbed him almost raw. As she climbed the hill, he remembered her. He saw she was the same person. He passed his second birthday with the light growing. Early in the following Spring he became conscious of a period of neglect: Luke, the fourth to be attacked by the pestilence, was desperately ill with typhoid: Eugene was intrusted almost completely to a young slovenly negress.
He remembered vividly her tall slattern figure, her slapping lazy feet, her dirty white stockings, and her strong smell, black and funky. One day she took him out on the side porch to play: The negress sat upon the side-steps and yawned while he grubbed in his dirty little dress along the path, and upon the lily bed. Presently, she went to sleep against the post. They were among the highest aristocracy of the town: The neighborhood was middle-class, but the situation was magnificent, and the Hilliards carried on in the grand manner, lords of the castle who descended into the village, but did not mix with its people.
Five minutes later they drove out, and were gone for two hours. He grubbed about in the middle of the road, disappointed in the quality of the cinders. The booming courthouse bell struck eleven times. Now, exactly at three minutes after eleven every morning, so unfailing and perfect was the order of this great establishment, a huge gray horse trotted slowly up the hill, drawing behind him a heavy grocery wagon, musty, spicy, odorous with the fine smells of grocery-stores and occupied exclusively by the Hilliard victuals, and the driver, a young negro man who, at three minutes past eleven every morning, according to ritual, was comfortably asleep.
Nothing could possibly go wrong: Accordingly he trotted heavily up the hill, turned ponderously into the alley ruts, and advanced heavily until, feeling the great circle of his right forefoot obstructed by some foreign particle, he looked down and slowly removed his hoof from what had recently been the face of a little boy.
Both negroes awoke simultaneously; there were cries within the house, and Eliza and Gant rushed out of doors. The frightened negro lifted Eugene, who was quite unconscious of his sudden return to the stage, into the burly arms of Doctor McGuire, who cursed the driver eloquently.
His thick sensitive fingers moved swiftly around the bloody little face and found no fracture. He nodded briefly at their desperate faces: McGuire, laying the hero upon the lounge. Every one spoke highly of the horse. But all this, as Eliza knew in her heart, was part of the plan of the Dark Sisters. The entrails had been woven and read long since: But Eugene carried the mark of the centaur for many years, though the light had to fall properly to reveal it.
When he was older, he wondered sometimes if the Hilliards had issued from their high place when he had so impiously disturbed the order of the manor. He never asked, but he thought not: Luke got well after cursing doctor, nurse, and family for several weeks: Gant was now head of a numerous family, which rose ladderwise from infancy to the adolescent Steve — who was eighteen — and the maidenly Daisy.
She was seventeen and in her last year at high school. She was a timid, sensitive girl, looking like her name — Daisy-ish industrious and thorough in her studies: She had very little fire, or denial in her; she responded dutifully to instructions; she gave back what had been given to her. She played the piano without any passionate feeling for the music; but she rendered it honestly with a beautiful rippling touch. And she practised hours at a time. It was apparent, however, that Steve was lacking in scholarship. When he was fourteen, he was summoned by the school principal to his little office, to take a thrashing for truancy and insubordination.
But the spirit of acquiescence was not in him: This was one of the best things he ever did: Very early, as his truancy mounted, and after he had been expelled, and as his life hardened rapidly in a defiant viciousness, the antagonism between the boy and Gant grew open and bitter.
Steve had a piece of tough suet where his heart should have been.
Of them all, he had had very much the worst of it. He had not forgotten. She was feeding Eugene at her breast long after Steve had taken his first two dollars to the ladies of Eagle Crescent. Cheaply and flashily dressed, with peg-top yellow shoes, flaring striped trousers, and a broad-brimmed straw hat with a colored band, he would walk down the avenue with a preposterous lurch, and a smile of strained assurance on his face, saluting with servile cordiality all who would notice him.
And if a man of property greeted him, his lacerated but overgrown vanity would seize the crumb, and he would boast pitifully at home: Every one has a good word for Little Stevie except his own people. Do you know what J. Collins said to me today? Gant, in a fury, gave him a hard beating when he had been expelled from school. He had never forgotten. Finally, he was told to go to work and support himself: Once, with a crony, Gus Moody, son of a foundry-man, he had gone off to see the world.
Grimy from vagabondage they had crawled off a freight-train at Knoxville, Tennessee, spent their little money on food, and in a brothel, and returned, two days later, coal-black but boastful of their exploit. Moreover, in her deepest heart, she had an affection for her oldest son, which, if it was not greater, was at least different in kind from what she bore for the others.
His glib boastfulness, his pitiable brag, pleased her: Thus, looking at a specimen of his handwriting, she would say:. When the man had come for secret potation some time later, and found his bottle half-empty, he had grimly dosed the remainder with Croton oil: One day, Steve forged a check on his father. It was some days before Gant discovered it: Steve sneaked in and out of the house, eating his meals alone for several days. When he met his father little was said by either: And knowing this, something in each of them turned away in grievous shame. Gant added this to his tirades against Eliza; all that was bad in the boy his mother had given him.
And, her nose reddened by the spitting grease, she would purse her lips, saying little, save, when goaded, to make some return calculated to infuriate and antagonize him. But her enormous patience was wearing very thin because of the daily cycle of abuse. They slept now in separate rooms upstairs: As he kindled a blaze in the range, and a roaring fire in the sitting-room, he muttered constantly to himself, with an occasional oratorical rise and fall of his voice.
In this way he composed and polished the flood of his invective: Could you have depended on your worthless old father, Tom Pentland, to give you one? Would Brother Will, or Brother Jim give you one? Did you ever hear of them giving any one anything? Did you ever hear of them caring for anything but their own miserable hides? Would any of them give a starving beggar a crust of bread? Not even if he ran a bakery shop! At times, when she tried to reply to his attack, she would burst easily into tears. But usually she made an occasional nagging retort: Yet, had he known to what lengths these daily assaults might drive her, he would have been astounded: Moreover, his own feeling for order was so great that he had a passionate aversion for what was slovenly, disorderly, diffuse.
He was goaded to actual fury at times when he saw how carefully she saved bits of old string, empty cans and bottles, paper, trash of every description: It was, perhaps, a reversal of custom that the deep-hungering spirit of quest belonged to the one with the greatest love of order, the most pious regard for ritual, who wove into a pattern even his daily tirades of abuse, and that the sprawling blot of chaos, animated by one all-mastering desire for possession, belonged to the practical, the daily person. Gant had the passion of the true wanderer, of him who wanders from a fixed point. He needed the order and the dependence of a home — he was intensely a family man: After his punctual morning tirade at Eliza, he went about the rousing of the slumbering children.
Comically, he could not endure feeling, in the morning, that he was the only one awake and about. His waking cry, delivered by formula, with huge comic gruffness from the foot of the stairs, took this form:. Indeed, when he described his early schooling, he furnished a landscape that was constantly three feet deep in snow, and frozen hard.
He seemed never to have attended school save under polar conditions. And fifteen minutes later, he would roar again: Presently now there would be the rapid thud of feet upstairs, and one by one they would descend, rushing naked into the sitting-room with their clothing bundled in their arms. Before his roaring fire they would dress. By breakfast, save for sporadic laments, Gant was in something approaching good humor.
They dined then quite happily. So passed the winter. Eugene was three; they bought him alphabet books, and animal pictures, with rhymed fables below. Gant read them to him indefatigably: Through the late winter and spring he performed numberless times for the neighbors: Every one thought it extraordinary that a child should read so young. In the Spring Gant began to drink again; his thirst withered, however, in two or three weeks, and shamefacedly he took up the routine of his life.
But Eliza was preparing for a change. Many of the Altamont people intended to go: Eliza was fascinated at the prospect of combining travel with profit. It had been talked of years before when he had broken his partnership with Will Pentland. I beg you not to. Some of the most respectable people in this town do it. Finally, he had a particular revulsion against lodgers: She knew this but she could not understand his feeling. Not merely to possess property, but to draw income from it was part of the religion of her family, and she surpassed them all by her willingness to rent out a part of her home.
She alone, in fact, of all the Pentlands was willing to relinquish the little moated castle of home; the particular secrecy and privacy of their walls she alone did not seem to value greatly. And she was the only one of them that wore a skirt. Eugene had been fed from her breast until he was more than three years old: Something in her stopped; something began. She had her way finally. Sometimes, during his evening tirades, she would snap back at him using the project as a threat. Just what was to be achieved she did not know. But she felt it was a beginning for her.
And she had her way finally. Gant succumbed to the lure of new lands. He was to remain at home: The prospect, too, of release for a time excited him. Something of the old thrill of youth touched him. He was left behind, but the world lurked full of unseen shadows for a lonely man. Daisy was in her last year at school: But it cost him more than a pang or two to see Helen go.
She was almost fourteen. In early April, Eliza departed, bearing her excited brood about her, and carrying Eugene in her arms. He was bewildered at this rapid commotion, but he was electric with curiosity and activity. The Tarkintons and Duncans streamed in: Tarkinton regarded her with some awe.
The whole neighborhood was a bit bewildered at this latest turn. They went to the station in the street-car: Ben and Grover gleefully sat together, guarding a big luncheon hamper. Helen clutched nervously a bundle of packages. Eliza glanced sharply at her long straight legs and thought of the half-fare. Something stabbed sharply in Eliza. They had an awkward moment. The strangeness, the absurdity of the whole project, and the monstrous fumbling of all life, held them speechless. Eugene watched the sun wane and redden on a rocky river, and on the painted rocks of Tennessee gorges: Years later, it was to be remembered in dreams tenanted with elvish and mysterious beauty.
Stilled in great wonder, he went to sleep to the rhythmical pounding of the heavy wheels. They lived in a white house on the corner. There was a small plot of lawn in front, and a narrow strip on the side next to the pavement. He realized vaguely that it was far from the great central web and roar of the city — he thought he heard some one say four or five miles. Where was the river? Two little boys, twins, with straight very blond heads, and thin, mean faces, raced up and down the sidewalk before the house incessantly on tricycles. They wore white sailor-suits, with blue collars, and he hated them very much.
He felt vaguely that their father was a bad man who had fallen down an elevator shaft, breaking his legs. The house had a back yard, completely enclosed by a red board fence. At the end was a red barn. Years later, Steve, returning home, said: One day in the hot barren back yard, two cots and mattresses had been set up for airing. He lay upon one luxuriously, breathing the hot mattress, and drawing his small legs up lazily. Luke lay upon the other. They were eating peaches. He grew violently sick, vomited, and was unable to eat for some time.
He wondered why he had swallowed the fly when he had seen it all the time. The summer came down blazing hot. Gant arrived for a few days, bringing Daisy with him. One night they drank beer at the Delmar Gardens. In the hot air, at a little table, he gazed thirstily at the beaded foaming stein: Eliza gave him a taste; they all shrieked at his bitter surprised face.
Years later he remembered Gant, his mustache flecked with foam, quaffing mightily at the glass: Faces from the old half-forgotten world floated in from time to time. One day, with sudden recollective horror he looked up into the brutal shaven face of Jim Lyda. He was the Altamont sheriff; he lived at the foot of the hill below Gant.
Once, when Eugene was past two, Eliza had gone to Piedmont as witness in a trial. She was away two days; he was left in care of Mrs. Now, one day, this monster appeared again, by devilish sleight, and Eugene looked up into the heavy evil of his face. Eugene saw Eliza standing near Jim; and as the terror in the small face grew, Jim made as if to put his hand violently upon her. At his cry of rage and fear, they both laughed: Sniggering furtively, they talked suggestively about the Hoochy—Koochy: Eugene understood it was a dance. Steve hummed a monotonous, suggestive tune, and writhed sensually.
They sang a song; the plaintive distant music haunted him. Sometimes, lying on a sunny quilt, Eugene grew conscious of a gentle peering face, a soft caressing voice, unlike any of the others in kind and quality, a tender olive skin, black hair, sloeblack eyes, exquisite, rather sad, kindliness. On his brown neck he was birth-marked with a raspberry: Eugene touched it again and again with wonder.
This was Grover — the gentlest and saddest of the boys. Eliza sometimes allowed them to take him on excursions. Once, they made a voyage on a river steamer: The boys worked on the Fair Grounds. They were call-boys at a place called the Inside Inn. The name charmed him: Sometimes his sisters, sometimes Eliza, sometimes the boys pulled him through the milling jungle of noise and figures, past the rich opulence and variety of the life of the Fair. He was drugged in fantasy as they passed the East India tea-house, and as he saw tall turbaned men who walked about within and caught for the first time, so that he never forgot, the slow incense of the East.
Once in a huge building roaring with sound, he was rooted before a mighty locomotive, the greatest monster he had ever seen, whose wheels spun terrifically in grooves, whose blazing furnaces, raining hot red coals into the pit beneath, were fed incessantly by two grimed fire-painted stokers. The scene burned in his brain like some huge splendor out of Hell: Once Daisy, yielding to the furtive cat-cruelty below her mild placidity, took him with her through the insane horrors of the scenic railway; they plunged bottomlessly from light into roaring blackness, and as his first yell ceased with a slackening of the car, rolled gently into a monstrous lighted gloom peopled with huge painted grotesques, the red maws of fiendish heads, the cunning appearances of death, nightmare, and madness.
His unprepared mind was unrooted by insane fear: His mind, just emerging from the unreal wilderness of childish fancy, gave way completely in this Fair, and he was paralyzed by the conviction, which often returned to him in later years, that his life was a fabulous nightmare and that, by cunning and conspirate artifice, he had surrendered all his hope, belief, and confidence to the lewd torture of demons masked in human flesh.
Half-sensible, and purple with gasping terror, he came out finally into the warm and practical sunlight. His last remembrance of the Fair came from a night in early autumn: The summer had passed. There was the rustling of autumn winds, a whispering breath of departed revelry: And now the house grew very still: I put my hand on his head and he was burning up. Her black eyes brightened in her white face: She pursed her lips and spoke hopefully. Eliza pursed her lips more and more thoughtfully after each visit the doctor made; she seized every spare crumb of encouragement and magnified it, but her heart was sick.
She shook her white face at him silently as if unable to speak. Then, rapidly, she concluded: Eugene was deep in midnight slumber. Some one shook him, loosening him slowly from his drowsiness. Presently he found himself in the arms of Helen, who sat on the bed holding him, her morbid stricken little face fastened on him. She spoke to him distinctly and slowly in a subdued voice, charged somehow with a terrible eagerness:.
He wondered what a cooling board was; the house was full of menace. She bore him out into the dimly lighted hall, and carried him to the rooms at the front of the house. Behind the door he heard low voices. Quietly she opened it; the light blazed brightly on the bed. Eugene looked, horror swarmed like poison through his blood. Behind the little wasted shell that lay there he remembered suddenly the warm brown face, the soft eyes, that once had peered down at him: O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.
Eliza sat heavily on a chair, her face bent sideways on her rested hand. She was weeping, her face contorted by the comical and ugly grimace that is far more terrible than any quiet beatitude of sorrow. Gant comforted her awkwardly but, looking at the boy from time to time, he went out into the hall and cast his arms forth in agony, in bewilderment.
The children went to bed. For some time Eliza and Gant continued to sit alone in the room. Gant leaned his face in his powerful hands. And in the ticking silence they recalled him, and in the heart of each was fear and remorse, because he had been a quiet boy, and there were many, and he had gone unnoticed. Then presently each thought of the other; they felt suddenly the horror and strangeness of their surroundings.
Eliza wondered why she had come: And as they sat there more quietly now, swarming pity rose in them — not for themselves, but for each other, and for the waste, the confusion, the groping accident of life. Gant thought briefly of his four and fifty years, his vanished youth, his diminishing strength, the ugliness and badness of so much of it; and he had the very quiet despair of a man who knows the forged chain may not be unlinked, the threaded design unwound, the done undone.
They went home immediately. At every station Gant and Eliza made restless expeditions to the baggage-car. It was gray autumnal November: They blew about the streets of Altamont, they were deep in lane and gutter, they scampered dryly along before the wind. The car ground noisily around the curve at the hill-top. As Eliza came slowly down the hill, Mrs.
Tarkinton ran from her house sobbing. Her eldest daughter had died a month before. The two women gave loud cries as they saw each other, and rushed together. The death of Grover gave Eliza the most terrible wound of her life: Her flesh seemed to turn rotten when she thought of the distant city and the Fair: With her desperate sadness she encysted herself within her house and her family, reclaimed that life she had been ready to renounce, lived laborious days and tried to drink, in toil, oblivion.
But the dark lost face gleamed like a sudden and impalpable faun within the thickets of memory: During the grim winter the shadows lifted slowly. Gant brought back the roaring fires, the groaning succulent table, the lavish and explosive ritual of the daily life. The old gusto surged back in their lives. Secure and conscious now in the guarded and sufficient strength of home, he lay with well-lined belly before the roasting vitality of the fire, poring insatiably over great volumes in the bookcase, exulting in the musty odor of the leaves, and in the pungent smell of their hot hides.
Their numberless pages were illustrated with hundreds of drawings, engravings, wood-cuts: The pictures of battle delighted him most of all. The past unrolled to him in separate and enormous visions; he built unending legends upon the pictures of the kings of Egypt, charioted swiftly by soaring horses, and something infinitely old and recollective seemed to awaken in him as he looked on fabulous monsters, the twined beards and huge beast-bodies of Assyrian kings, the walls of Babylon.
Or, he would recite or read poetry, for which he had a capacious and retentive memory. The family was at the very core and ripeness of its life together. Gant lavished upon it his abuse, his affection, and his prodigal provisioning. They came to look forward eagerly to his entrance, for he brought with him the great gusto of living, of ritual. They would watch him in the evening as he turned the corner below with eager strides, follow carefully the processional of his movements from the time he flung his provisions upon the kitchen table to the rekindling of his fire, with which he was always at odds when he entered, and on to which he poured wood, coal and kerosene lavishly.
This done, he would remove his coat and wash himself at the basin vigorously, rubbing his great hands across his shaven, tough-bearded face with the cleansing and male sound of sandpaper. Then he would thrust his body against the door jamb and scratch his back energetically by moving it violently to and fro. This done, he would empty another half can of kerosene on the howling flame, lunging savagely at it, and muttering to himself.
Then, biting off a good hunk of powerful apple tobacco, which lay ready for his use on the mantel, he would pace back and forth across his room fiercely, oblivious of his grinning family who followed these ceremonies with exultant excitement, as he composed his tirade. Finally, he would burst in on Eliza in the kitchen, plunging to the heart of denunciation with a mad howl.
His turbulent and undisciplined rhetoric had acquired, by the regular convention of its usage, something of the movement and directness of classical epithet: The children grew to await his return in the evening with a kind of exhilaration. Indeed, Eliza herself, healing slowly and painfully her great hurt, got a certain stimulation from it; but there was still in her a fear of the periods of drunkenness, and latently, a stubborn and unforgiving recollection of the past. But, during that winter, as death, assaulted by the quick and healing gaiety of children, those absolute little gods of the moment, lifted itself slowly out of their hearts, something like hopefulness returned to her.
They were a life unto themselves — how lonely they were they did not know, but they were known to every one and friended by almost no one. Their status was singular — if they could have been distinguished by caste, they would probably have been called middle-class, but the Duncans, the Tarkintons, all their neighbors, and all their acquaintances throughout the town, never drew in to them, never came into the strange rich color of their lives, because they had twisted the design of all orderly life, because there was in them a mad, original, disturbing quality which they did not suspect.
And companionship with the elect — those like the Hilliards — was equally impossible, even if they had had the gift or the desire for it. Gant was a great man, and not a singular one, because singularity does not hold life in unyielding devotion to it. Does Brother Will care? Does Brother Jim care? Did the Old Hog, your miserable old father, care? I have fallen into the hands of fiends incarnate, more savage, more cruel, more abominable than the beasts of the field. Hellhounds that they are, they will sit by and gloat at my agony until I am done to death.
He paced rapidly about the adjacent wash-room for a moment, muttering to himself, while grinning Luke stood watchfully near. I shall never forget the Old Hog as long as I live. As his denunciation reached some high extravagance the boys would squeal with laughter, and Gant, inwardly tickled, would glance around slyly with a faint grin bending the corners of his thin mouth.
Eliza herself would laugh shortly, and then exclaim roughly: Sometimes, on these occasions, his good humor grew so victorious that he would attempt clumsily to fondle her, putting one arm stiffly around her waist, while she bridled, became confused, and half-attempted to escape, saying: Get away from me! At these rare, unnatural exhibitions of affection, the children laughed with constraint, fidgeted restlessly, and said: Eugene, when he first noticed an occurrence of this sort, was getting on to his fifth year: And he was never after able to see them touch each other with affection, without the same inchoate and choking humiliation: But as the slow months, gummed with sorrow, dropped more clearly, the powerful germinal instinct for property and freedom began to reawaken in Eliza, and the ancient submerged struggle between their natures began again.
Her sex was a fading coal. Season by season, there began again the old strife of ownership and taxes. I see very well where it will all end. I curse the day I was ever fool enough to buy the first stick. She would purse her lips thoughtfully as she went over the list, while he looked at her with a face of strained agony. Gant, when we had a chance of trading in that worthless old Owenby place for those two houses on Carter Street.
We could have been getting forty dollars a month rent on them ever since. It all comes to the same in the end, anyway. Gant, for all his hatred of land ownership, was proud of living under his own shelter, and indeed proud in the possession of anything that was sanctified by his usage, and that gave him comfort. He would have liked ready and unencumbered affluence — the possession of huge sums of money in the bank and in his pocket, the freedom to travel grandly, to go before the world spaciously. He liked to carry large sums of money in his pocket, a practice of which Eliza disapproved, and for which she reprimanded him frequently.
Once or twice, when he was drunk, he had been robbed: Take it all, God damn it! Helen usually collected it from the sometimes unwilling fingers of the boys. She would give it to him next day. She was fifteen or sixteen years old, and almost six feet high: The bond between the girl and her father grew stronger every day: He had begun to suspect that this devotion, and his own response to it, was a cause more and more of annoyance to Eliza, and he was inclined to exaggerate and emphasize it, particularly when he was drunk, when his furious distaste for his wife, his obscene complaint against her, was crudely balanced by his maudlin docility to the girl.
She was forced to keep out of his way, lock herself in her room, while her young daughter victoriously subdued him. The friction between Helen and Eliza was often acute: And, in addition to the unspoken rivalry over Gant, the girl was in the same way, equally, rasped by the temperamental difference of Eliza — driven to fury at times by her slow, mouth-pursing speech, her placidity, the intonations of her voice, the deep abiding patience of her nature. Eugene began to observe the food and the seasons.
In the autumn, they barrelled huge frosty apples in the cellar. Gant bought whole hogs from the butcher, returning home early to salt them, wearing a long work-apron, and rolling his sleeves half up his lean hairy arms. Smoked bacons hung in the pantry, the great bins were full of flour, the dark recessed shelves groaned with preserved cherries, peaches, plums, quinces, apples, pears.
All that he touched waxed in rich pungent life: The rich plums lay bursted on the grass; his huge cherry trees oozed with heavy gum jewels; his apple trees bent with thick green clusters. The earth was spermy for him like a big woman. Spring was full of cool dewy mornings, spurting winds, and storms of intoxicating blossoms, and in this enchantment Eugene first felt the mixed lonely ache and promise of the seasons. In the morning they rose in a house pungent with breakfast cookery, and they sat at a smoking table loaded with brains and eggs, ham, hot biscuit, fried apples seething in their gummed syrups, honey, golden butter, fried steak, scalding coffee.
Or there were stacked batter-cakes, rum-colored molasses, fragrant brown sausages, a bowl of wet cherries, plums, fat juicy bacon, jam. At the mid-day meal, they ate heavily: At night they might eat fried steak, hot squares of grits fried in egg and butter, pork-chops, fish, young fried chicken.
For the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts four heavy turkeys were bought and fattened for weeks: Eugene fed them with cans of shelled corn several times a day, but he could not bear to be present at their executions, because by that time their cheerful excited gobbles made echoes in his heart. Eliza baked for weeks in advance: Seated before a roast or a fowl, Gant began a heavy clangor on his steel and carving knife, distributing thereafter Gargantuan portions to each plate.
Gant ate ravenously and without caution. He was immoderately fond of fish, and he invariably choked upon a bone while eating it. This happened hundreds of times, but each time he would look up suddenly with a howl of agony and terror, groaning and crying out strongly while a half-dozen hands pounded violently on his back. He had a Dutch love of abundance: On his journey to California, he had been charmed in New Orleans by the cheapness and profusion of tropical fruits: Louis, when he was fifty-six years old.
In the great frame was already stirring the chemistry of pain and death. Unspoken and undefined there was in him the knowledge that he was at length caught in the trap of life and fixity, that he was being borne under in this struggle against the terrible will that wanted to own the earth more than to explore it. This was the final flare of the old hunger that had once darkened in the small gray eyes, leading a boy into new lands and toward the soft stone smile of an angel. And he returned from nine thousand miles of wandering, to the bleak bare prison of the hills on a gray day late in winter.
In the more than eight thousand days and nights of this life with Eliza, how often had he been wakefully, soberly and peripatetically conscious of the world outside him between the hours of one and five A. How looked the home-earth then to Gant the Far—Wanderer? Light crept grayly, melting on the rocky river, the engine smoke streaked out on dawn like a cold breath, the hills were big, but nearer, nearer than he thought.
And Altamont lay gray and withered in the hills, a bleak mean wintry dot. He stepped carefully down in squalid Toytown, noting that everything was low, near, and shrunken as he made his Gulliverian entry. So small, so small, so small, he thought. I never believed it. Even the hills here. His sallow face, thin-flanked, was hang-dog and afraid.
He stared wistful-sullenly down at the rattan seat as the car screeched round into the switch at the cut and stopped; the motorman, smoke-throated, slid the door back and entered with his handle. He closed the door and sat down yawning. But two months dead! Merciful God, this fearful, awful, and damnable climate.
Is it too late? A land of life, a flower land. How clear the green clear sea was. And all the fishes swimming there. Those in the East should always go West. How came I here? Down, down — always down, did I know where? The little boat glass-bottomed, so you could look down. She lifted up her skirts as she stepped down. A pair of pippins. There was a crescent humming on the rails. With his thick glove finger he pushed away a clearing in the window-coated ice scurf and looked smokily out on the raw red cut-bank.
The other car appeared abruptly at the end of the cut and curved with a skreeking jerk into the switch. Here today and gone tomorrow. He closed the door behind him and jerkily opened three notches of juice. The car ground briskly off like a wound toy. In the prime of life, thought Gant. Myself like that some day. Eats like a horse, Augusta wrote. Must send her twenty dollars. Now in the cold clay, frozen. Who got the job? Brock or Saul Gudger? Bread out of my mouth. Do me to death — the stranger. Georgia marble, sandstone base, forty dollars.
Four cents a letter. Little enough, God knows, for the work you do. My letters the best. Could have been a writer. Like to draw too. And all of mine! I would have heard if anything — he would have told me. All right above the waist. If anything happens it will be down below. Whisky holes through all your guts. But several doctors have to agree on it.
Get it before it gets up in you. Old man Haight had a flap in his belly. Ladled it out in a cup. McGuire — damned butcher. But he can do anything. Cut off a piece here, sew it on there. Made the Hominy man a nose with a piece of shinbone. Ought to be possible. Cut all the strings, tie them up again. Sort of job for McGuire — rough and ready. Things standing thus, unknown — but kill you maybe.
Soon now the Spring. All bloody in her brain. Full filling fountains of bull-milk. But westward now he caught a glimpse of Pisgah and the western range. It was more spacious there. The hills climbed sunward to the sun. There was width to the eye, a smoking sun-hazed amplitude, the world convoluting and opening into the world, hill and plain, into the west. The West for desire, the East for home. To the east the short near mile-away hills reeked protectively above the town. Fried brains and eggs with streaky rashers of limp bacon. Wake, wake, wake, you mountain grills!
Sleeps she yet, wrapped dirtily in three old wrappers in stale, airless yellow-shaded cold. The chapped hands sick-sweet glycerined. Gum-headed bottles, hairpins, and the bits of string. No one may enter now. A paper-carrier, number 7, finished his route on the corner of Vine Street, as the car stopped, turned eastwards now from Pisgah Avenue toward the town core.
The boy folded, bent, and flattened the fresh sheets deftly, throwing the block angularly thirty yards upon the porch of Shields the jeweller; it struck the boarding and bounded back with a fresh plop. Then he walked off with fatigued relief into time toward the twentieth century, feeling gratefully the ghost-kiss of absent weight upon his now free but still leaning right shoulder. About fourteen, thought Gant. That would be Spring of The mule camp at Harrisburg. Thirty a month and keep. Men stank worse than mules. I was in third bunk on top.
Keep your damned dirty hoof out of my mouth. That was the man. Then they had it. Mother made us go. Big enough to work, she said. Born at the heart of the world, why here? Twelve miles from Gettysburg. Out of the South they came. Stove-pipe hats they had stolen. Give me a drink, son. That was Fitzhugh Lee. After the third day we went over. Stinking piles of arms and legs. Some of it done with meat-saws. Is the land richer now? The great barns bigger than the houses. Big eaters, all of us. I hid the cattle in the thicket. Belle Boyd, the Beautiful Rebel Spy. Sentenced to be shot four times.
Took the despatches from his pocket while they danced. Probably a little chippie. The whole hog or none. Always been a good provider. Little I ever had done for me. The car still climbing, mounted the flimsy cheap-boarded brown-gray smuttiness of Skyland Avenue. The Beautiful Land of the Sky. Built up all the way to Pasadena. Think he was in love with her. Wants her out there. No fool like — White bellies of the fish. A spring somewhere to wash me through. Clean as a baby once more. The man who tried to rob me. My clothes and my watch. Five blocks down Canal Street in my nightgown.
Threw them all in a heap — watch landed on top.
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Fight in my room. Town full of crooks and pickpockets for prizefight. Policeman half hour later. They come out and beg you to come in. Captain, they are gaining. I will not be beaten. Use the bacon she said proudly. There was a terrific explosion. He got her as she sank the third time and swam to shore. They powder in front of the window, smacking their lips at you. For old men better maybe. Who gets the business there? Bury them all above ground. Water two feet down. Yet Brutus is an hon-orable man. Has she any nigger blood? The car paused briefly at the car-shed, in sight of its stabled brothers.
Then it moved reluctantly past the dynamic atmosphere of the Power and Light Company, wheeling bluntly into the gray frozen ribbon of Hatton Avenue, running gently up hill near its end into the frore silence of the Square. Well do I remember. The car passed the Tuskegee on its eighty-yard climb into the Square. The fat slick worn leather-chairs marshalled between a fresh-rubbed gleaming line of brass spittoons squatted massively on each side of the entry door, before thick sheets of plate-glass that extended almost to the sidewalks with indecent nearness.
Like fish in a glass case. Staring at all the women. A negro bellboy sleepily wafted a gray dust-cloth across the leather. Within, before the replenished crackle-dance of the wood-fire, the nightclerk sprawled out in the deep receiving belly of a leather divan. The car reached the Square, jolted across the netting of north-south lines, and came to a halt on the north side, facing east.
Scurfing a patch away from the glazed window, Gant looked out. The Square in the wan-gray frozen morning walled round him with frozen unnatural smallness. He felt suddenly the cramped mean fixity of the Square: He got very definitely the impression that if he flung out his arms they would strike against the walls of the mean three-and-four-story brickbuilt buildings that flanked the Square raggedly.
Anchored to earth at last, he was hit suddenly by the whole cumulation of sight and movement, of eating, drinking, and acting that had gathered in him for two months. The limitless land, wood, field, hill, prairie, desert, mountain, the coast rushing away below his eyes, the ground that swam before his eyes at stations, the remembered ghosts of gumbo, oysters, huge Frisco seasteaks, tropical fruits swarmed with the infinite life, the ceaseless pullulation of the sea.
Here only, in his unreal-reality, this unnatural vision of what he had known for twenty years, did life lose its movement, change, color. The Square had the horrible concreteness of a dream. At the far southeastern edge he saw his shop: Gant — Marbles, Tombstones, Cemetery Fixtures.
A sleepy negro employed at the Manor Hotel clambered heavily up and slumped into one of the seats reserved for his race at the back. In a moment he began to snore gently through his blubbered lips. At the east end of the Square, Big Bill Messler, with his vest half-unbuttoned over his girdled paunch-belly, descended slowly the steps of the City Hall, and moved soundingly off with country leisure along the cold-metallic sidewalk. The fountain, ringed with a thick bracelet of ice, played at quarter-strength a sheening glut of ice-blue water.