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Gathering of Evidence, A

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Gathering of Evidence, A – Essays on William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust

Gresset, Michael & Patrick Samway

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Place Published: Philadelphia
Publisher: Saint Joseph’s University Press
Date Published: 2004

Binding: Hardcover

ISBN: 0916101460

Book Id: 63


276 pages


Among the stars in the American literary firmament Faulkner’s has remained consistently bright. Whatever litmus test one wants to use, Faulkner’s fiction has always been recognized as among the very best ever written in the United States. And thus it is particularly fitting that a volume of 12 essays focusing exclusively on Intruder in the Dust (1948) be made available for the first time to students of Faulkner, of whatever stripe, who wish to appreciate this novel in different contexts and from a variety of perspectives. In short, this volume is a gathering of all sorts of methodological evidence for evaluating a novel that is, in itself, a detective story whose resolution depends upon securing appropriate legal evidence.

A Gathering of Evidence pulls together the best criticism available about a novel that illuminates significant dimensions of Faulkner’s short stories and novels. Whatever their approach, the authors in this volume of essays seem to agree on one point: Although this novel is about the education of a young white boy, Chick Mallison, in a racially charged small Southern community, it is Lucas Beauchamp, a black man accused of murdering a white man, who emerges in many seemingly contradictory ways as an important literary figure. Since no one essay can completely exhaust a discussion of the significance of Lucas Beauchamp, these essays, taken together, offer multiple viewpoints that renders the discussion comprehensible and rewarding.


Editor Michel Gresset, Professor Emeritus of American Literature at the Institut d’Anglais Charles V of the University Denis Diderot (Paris VII) in France, has taught at San Diego State University, the University of British Columbia, and Harvard. He is the author of Faulkner ou la Fascination (Klincksieck, 1982, translated as Fascination: Faulkner’s Fiction, 1919-1936, Duke University Press, 1989) and the editor of Volume I of the Pléiade edition of Faulkner’s works and one of the co-editors of Volume III.

Editor Patrick Samway, S.J., Professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the author of Walker Percy: A Life (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; cited by the New York Times as a “notable book” of 1997). He has written a book on the manuscripts and typescripts of Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and also co-edited with Michel Gresset Faulkner and Ideology: Perspectives from Paris (University Press of Mississippi, 1983).


Essays in this volume include:

The Community in Action – Cleanth Brooks

Man on the Margin: Lucas Beauchamp and the Limitations of Space – Keith Clark

Eunice Habersham’s Lessons in Intruder in the Dust – Ikuko Fujihira

Teaching Intruder in the Dust Through Its Political and Historical Context – Robert W. Hamblin

Race Fantasies: The Filming of Intruder in the Dust – Charles Hannon

Negotiating the National Voice in Faulkner’s Late Work – Joe Karagani

Faulkner’s Comic Narrative of Community – Donald M. Kartiganer

Contextualizing Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust: Sherlock Holmes, Chick Mallison, Decolonization, and Change – Richard C. Moreland

Man in the Middle: Faulkner and the Southern White Moderate – Noel Polk

Intruder in the Dust: A Re-evaluation – Patrick Samway, S.J.

Faulkner and the Post-Confederate – Neil Schmitz

‘The Sum of Your Ancestry’: Cultural Context and Intruder in the Dust – Evelyn Jaffe Schreiber



“This collection of essays on Faulkner’s self-proclaimed ‘mystery-murder’ novel provides a broad range of insights and readings for students and teachers. Although the novel is, in part, about a young white boy, the essays in this volume highlight the significance of Lucas Beauchamp, the African-American character around whom this racial drama actually turns. The novel is examined in political and historical context as well as through the larger lens of detective fiction. Issues such as decolonization, space, national and regional identity, and ancestry are explored, as are film versions of the text.”

American Literature (Duke University)


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By This Author: Gresset, Michael & Patrick Samway
By This Publisher: Saint Joseph’s University Press


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* A Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook *

This ebook is made available at no cost and with very few
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Title: Mississippi

Author: Faulkner, William (1897-1962)

Author [introductory note]: Anonymous

Date of first publication: October 1954

Edition used as base for this ebook:
Encounter, October 1954, Vol. III, No. 4
[Paris: The Congress for Cultural Freedom;
London: Martin Secker & Warburg]

Date first posted: 7 October 2014

Date last updated: 7 October 2014

Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #1208

This ebook was produced by Al Haines

William Faulkner


[A note to British readers:—There is the case
of the visitor to the state of
Mississippi who expressed a wish to tour Yoknapatawpha county.
It was an
understandable wish, and is shared by most of us
who are readers of Faulkner.
Unfortunately, this county, the scene of most
of Faulkner’s novels, does not
exist outside them; and it is a tribute to his
art that its reality should press so
heavily on us.

There is, of course, in literal fact a state of Mississippi,
with a gross area of
48,000 square miles in the heart of the Deep South,
and a population of a little
more than 2,000,000. It is about this home state
of his that Faulkner is here
writing. But not only about this state—he
is also writing about a Mississippi
which exists in art as well as in fact.
It is his Mississippi which he here describes,
and if it is not quite identical with the geographer’s
or the historian’s, it is
certainly no less real, and is perhaps more so.
One can find out about some of
the people he mentions (Bilbo, Vardaman)
by consulting an American history
textbook. For others (the Snopeses, for instance),
we have to turn to Faulkner’s
novels and stories. Both are an intrinsic part
of the “real” Mississippi.—Ed.]

Mississippi begins in the lobby of a
Memphis, Tennessee, hotel and
extends south to the Gulf of Mexico.
It is dotted with little towns concentric about
the ghosts of the horses and mules once tethered
to the hitch-rail enclosing the county
courthouse and it might almost be said to have only
two directions, north and south, since until a
few years ago it was impossible to travel east or
west in it unless you walked or rode one of the
horses or mules. Even in the boy’s early
manhood, to reach by rail either of the adjacent
county towns thirty miles away to the east or
west, you had to travel ninety miles in three
directions on three different railroads.

In the beginning it was virgin—to the west,
along the Big River, the alluvial swamps
threaded by black, almost motionless bayous
and impenetrable with cane and buckvine and
cypress and ash and oak and gum; to the east,
the hardwood ridges and the prairies where the
Appalachian Mountains died and buffalo
grazed; to the south, the pine barrens and the
moss-hung live oaks and the greater swamps,
less of earth than water and lurking with
alligators and water moccasins, where Louisiana
in its time would begin.

And where in the beginning the predecessors
crept with their simple artifacts, and built the
mounds and vanished, bequeathing only the
mounds in which the succeeding recordable
Muskhogean stock would leave the skulls of
their warriors and chiefs and babies and slain
bears, and the shards of pots, and hammer- and
arrow-heads and now and then a heavy silver
Spanish spur.

There were deer to drift in herds alarmless as
smoke then, and bear and panther and wolves
in the brakes and bottoms, and all the lesser
beasts—coon and possum and beaver and mink
and mushrat (not muskrat: mushrat); they were
still there and some of the land was still virgin
in the early nineteen hundreds when the boy
himself began to hunt. But except for looking
occasionally out from behind the face of a white
man or a Negro, the Chickasaws and Choctaws
and Natchez and Yazoos were as gone as the
predecessors; and the people the boy crept with
were the descendants of the Sartorises and de
Spains and Compsons who had commanded
the Manassas and Sharpsburg and Shiloh and
Chickamauga regiments, and the McCaslins
and Ewells and Holstons and Hogganbecks
whose fathers and grandfathers had manned
them, and now and then a Snopes too because
by the beginning of the twentieth century
Snopeses were everywhere: not only behind
the counters of grubby little side-street stores
patronised mostly by Negroes, but behind the
presidents’ desks of banks and the directors’
tables of wholesale grocery corporations and in
the deaconries of Baptist churches, buying up
the decayed Georgian houses and chopping
them into apartments and on their deathbeds
decreeing annexes and baptismal fonts to the
churches as mementoes to themselves or maybe
out of simple terror.

The Snopeses hunted too. They too were in
the camps where the de Spains and Compsons
and McCaslins and Ewells were masters in their
hierarchal turn, shooting the does not only
when law but the Master too said not, shooting
them not even because the meat was needed but
leaving the meat itself to be eaten by scavengers
in the woods, shooting it simply because it was
big and moving and alien, of an older time than
the little grubby stores and the accumulating
and compounding money; the boy a man now
and in his hierarchal turn Master of the camp
and coping, having to cope, not with the
diminishing wilderness where there was less and
less game, but with the Snopeses who were
destroying that little which did remain.

These elected the Bilboes and voted
indefatigably for the Vardamans, naming their
sons after both. Their origin was in bitter
hatred and fear and economic rivalry of the
Negroes who farmed little farms no larger than
and adjacent to their own, because the Negro,
remembering when he had not been free at all,
was therefore capable of valuing what he had of
freedom enough to struggle to retain even that
little and had taught himself how to do more
with less: to raise more cotton with less money
to spend and food to eat and fewer or inferior
tools to work with; this, until he, the Snopes,
could escape from the land into the little grubby
side-street store where he could live not beside
the Negro but on him by marking up on the
inferior meat and meal and molasses the price
which he, the Negro, could not even always

In the beginning, the obsolescent, dispossessed
tomorrow by the already obsolete: the wild
Muskhogean—Chickasaw and Choctaw and
Natchez and Pascagoula—looked down from
the tall Mississippi bluffs at a Chippeway canoe
containing three Frenchmen—and had barely
time to whirl and look behind him at a
thousand Spaniards come overland from the Atlantic
Ocean, and for a little while longer had the
privilege of watching an ebb-flux-ebb-flux of
alien nationalities as rapid as the magician’s spill
and evanishment of inconstant cards: the
Frenchman for a second, then the Spaniard for
perhaps two, then the Frenchman for another
two, then the Frenchman for another two and
then the Spaniard again and then the Frenchman
again for that last half-breath before the
Anglo-Saxon, who would come to stay, to
endure: the tall man roaring with Protestant
Scripture and boiled whisky, Bible and jug in
one hand and like as not an Indian tomahawk
in the other, brawling, turbulent, uxorious and
polygamous: a married invincible bachelor
without destination but only motion, advancement,
dragging his gravid wife and most of his
mother-in-law’s kin behind him into the trackless
wilderness, to spawn that child behind a
log-crotched rifle and then get her with another
one before they moved again, and at the same
time scattering his inexhaustible other seed in
three hundred miles of dusky bellies: without
avarice or compassion or forethought either:
felling a tree which took two hundred years to
grow, to extract from it a bear or a capful of
wild honey.

He endured, even after he too was obsolete,
the younger sons of Virginia and Carolina
planters coming to replace him in wagons laden
with slaves and indigo seedlings over the very
roads he had hacked out with little else but the
tomahawk. Then someone gave a Natchez
doctor a Mexican cotton seed (maybe with the
boll weevil already in it since, like the Snopeses,
it too has taken over the Southern earth) and
changed the whole face of Mississippi. Slaves
were clearing rapidly now the virgin land,
lurking still—in 1850—with the ghosts of
Murrell and Mason and Hare and the two
Harpes, into plantation fields for profit where
he, the displaced and obsolete, had wanted only
the bear and the deer and the sweetening for his
tooth. But he remained, hung on still; he is still
there even in the boy’s middle-age, living in a
log or plank or tin hut on the edge of what
remains of the fading wilderness, by and on the
tolerance and sometimes even the bounty of
the plantation owner to whom, in his intractable
way and even with a certain dignity and
independence, he is a sycophant, trapping coons
and muskrats, now that the bear and the
panther are almost gone too, improvident still,
felling still the two-hundred-year-old tree
even though it has only a coon or a squirrel in it

Manning, when that time came, not the
Manassas and Shiloh regiments but confederating
into irregular bands and gangs owning
not much allegiance to anyone or anything,
unified instead into the one rite and aim of
stealing horses from Federal picket lines; this
in the intervals of raiding (or trying to) the
plantation house of the very man to whom he
had been the independent sycophant and
intended to be again, once the war was over and
presuming that the man came back from his
Sharpsburg or Chickamauga majority or
colonelcy or whatever it had been. Trying to
raid, that is, until the major’s or colonel’s wife
or aunt or mother-in-law, who had buried the
silver in the orchard and still held together a
few of the older slaves, fended him off and
dispersed him, and when necessary even shot
him, with the absent husband’s or nephew’s or
son-in-law’s hunting gun or duelling pistols.
The women: the indomitable, the undefeated,
who never surrendered, refusing to allow the
Yankee minie balls to be dug out of portico
column or mantelpiece or lintel, who seventy
years later would get up and walk out of Gone
With the Wind
as soon as Sherman’s name was
mentioned; irreconcilable and enraged and still
talking about it long after the weary exhausted
men who had fought and lost it gave up trying
to make them hush: even in the boy’s time the
boy himself knowing about Vicksburg and
Corinth and exactly where his grandfather’s
regiment had been at First Manassas before he
remembered hearing very much about Santa

In those days—1901 and ’02 and ’03 and
’04—Santa Claus occurred only at Christmas, not
like now, and for the rest of the year children
played with what they could find or contrive
or make, though just as now, in ’51 and ’52
and ’53 and ’54, they still played, aped in
miniature, what they had been exposed to,
heard or seen or been moved by most. Which
was true in the child’s time and case too: the
indomitable unsurrendered old women holding
together still, thirty-five and forty years later,
a few of the old house slaves: women too who,
like the white ones, refused to give up the old
ways and forget the old anguishes. The child
himself remembered one of them: Caroline:
free these many years but who had declined to
leave. Nor would she ever accept in full her
weekly Saturday wages; the family never
knew why unless the true reason was the one
which appeared: for the simple pleasure of
keeping the entire family reminded constantly
that they were in arrears to her, compelling the
boy’s grandfather then his father and finally
himself in his turn to be not only her banker
but her book-keeper too, having got the figure
of eighty-nine dollars into her head somehow
or for some reason, and though the sum itself
altered, sometimes more and sometimes less, and
sometimes it would be she herself who would
be several weeks in arrears, it never changed:
one of the children, white or Negro, liable to
appear at any time, usually when most of the
family would be gathered at a meal, with the
message: “Mammy says to tell you not to
forget you owe her eighty-nine dollars.”

To the child, even at that time, she seemed
already older than God, calling his grandsire
“colonel” but never the child’s father nor the
father’s brother and sister by anything but their
Christian names even when they themselves
had become grandparents: a matriarch with a
score of descendants (and probably half that
many more whom she had forgotten or
outlived), one of them a boy too, whether a great
grandson or merely a grandson even she did not
remember, born in the same week with the
white child and both bearing the same (the
white child’s grandsire’s) name, suckled, at the
same black breast and sleeping and eating
together and playing together the game which
was the most important thing the white child
knew at that time since at four and five and six
his world was still a female world and he had
heard nothing else that he could remember:
with empty spools and chips and sticks, and a
scraped trench filled with well water for the
River, playing over again in miniature the
War, the old irremediable battles—Shiloh and
Vicksburg, and Brice’s Crossroads which was
not far from where the child (both of them)
had been born, the boy because he was white
arrogating to himself the right to be the
Confederate General—-Pemberton or Johnston or
Forrest—twice to the black child’s once, else,
lacking that once in three, the black one would
not play at all.

Not the tall man, he was still the hunter, the
man of the woods; and not the slave
because he was free now; but that Mexican
cotton seed which someone had given the
Natchez doctor was clearing the land fast now,
ploughing under the buffalo grass of the eastern
prairies and the brier and switch cane of the
creek and river bottoms of the central hills and
deswamping the whole vast, flat, alluvial,
delta-shaped sweep of land along the Big River, the
Old Man: building the levees to hold him off
the land long enough to plant and harvest the
crop: he taking another foot of slope in his
new dimension for every foot man constricted
him in the old, so that the steamboats carrying
the baled cotton to Memphis or New Orleans
seemed to crawl along the sky itself.

And little steamboats on the smaller rivers,
too, penetrating the Tallahatchie as far up as
Wylie’s Crossing above Jefferson. Though most
of the cotton from that section—and on to the
east to that point of no economic return where
it was more expedient to continue on east to
the Tombigbee and then south to Mobile—went
the sixty miles overland to Memphis by
mule and wagon; there was a settlement—a
tavern of sorts and a smithy and a few gaunt
cabins—on the bluff above Wylie’s, at the exact
distance where a wagon or a train of them
loaded with cotton either starting or resuming
the journey in the vicinity of Jefferson, would
have to halt for the night. Or not even a
settlement but rather a den, whose denizens lurked
unseen by day in the brakes and thickets of the
river bottom, appearing only at night and even
then only long enough to enter the tavern
kitchen where the driver of the day’s cotton
wagon sat unsuspecting before the fire,
whereupon driver, wagon, mules and cotton and all
would vanish: the body into the river probably
and the wagon burned and the mules sold days
or weeks later in a Memphis stockyard and the
unidentifiable cotton already on its way to the
Liverpool mill.

At the same time, sixteen miles away in
Jefferson, there was a pre-Snopes, one of the
tall men actually, a giant of a man in fact: a
dedicated lay Baptist preacher but furious not
with a furious unsleeping dream of paradise nor
even for universal Order with an upper-case O,
but for simple civic security. He was warned
by everyone not to go in there because not only
could he accomplish nothing, he would very
likely lose his own life trying it. But he did go,
alone, and talked not of gospel nor God nor
even of virtue, but simply sketched the biggest
and boldest and by appearance, anyway, the
most villainous there and said to him: “I’ll
fight you. If you lick me, you take what money
I have. If I lick you, I baptize you into my
church”: and battered and mauled and gouged
that one into sanctity and civic virtue then
challenged the next biggest and most villainous
and then the next; and the following Sunday
baptized the entire settlement in the river, the
cotton wagons now crossing on Wylie’s
hand-powered ferry and passing peacefully and
unchallenged on to Memphis until the railroad
came and took the bales away from them.

That was in the seventies. The Negro was a
free farmer and a political entity now; one, he
could not sign his name, was Federal marshal
at Jefferson. Afterwards he became the town’s
official bootlegger (Mississippi was one of the
first to essay the noble experiment, along with
Maine), resuming—he had never really quitted
it—his old allegiance to his old master and
gaining his professional name, Mulberry, from
the huge old tree behind Doctor Habersham’s
drug-store, in the gallery-like tunnels among
the roots of which he cached the bottled units
of his commerce.

Soon he (the Negro) would even forge ahead
in that economic rivalry with Snopes which
was to send Snopes in droves into the Ku Klux
Klan—not the old original one of the war’s
chaotic and desperate end which, measured
against the desperate times, was at least honest
and serious in its desperate aim, but into the
later base one of the twenties whose only
kinship to the old one was the old name. And a
little money to build railroads was in the land
now, brought there by the man who in ’66 had
been a carpetbagger but who now was a citizen;
his children would speak the soft consonantless
Negro tongue as the children of parents who
had lived below the Potomac and Ohio Rivers
since Captain John Smith, and their children
would boast of their Southern heritage.

In Jefferson his name was Redmond. He had
found the money with which Colonel Sartoris
had opened the local cotton fields to Europe by
building his connecting line up to the main
rail-road from Memphis to the Atlantic
Ocean—narrow gauge, like a toy, with three tiny
locomotives like toys, too, named after Colonel
Sartoris’ three daughters, each with its
silver-plated oilcan engraved with the daughter’s
Christian name: like toys, the standard-sized
cars jacked up at the junction, then lowered on
to the narrow trucks, the tiny locomotive now
invisible ahead of its charges so that they
appeared in process of being snatched headlong
among the fields they served by an arrogant
plume of smoke and the arrogant shrieking of a
whistle. It was Redmond who, after the
inevitable quarrel, finally shot Colonel Sartoris
dead on a Jefferson street, driven, everyone
believed, to the desperate act by the same
arrogance and intolerance which had driven
Colonel Sartoris’ regiment to demote him from
its colonelcy in the fall elections after Second
Manassas and Sharpsburg.

So there were railroads in the land now; now
couples who used to go overland by carriage to
the River landings and the steamboats for the
traditional New Orleans honeymoon could
take the train from almost anywhere. And
presently Pullmans, too, all the way from
Chicago and the Northern cities where the cash,
the money was, so that the rich Northerners
could come down in comfort and open the land
indeed: setting up with their Yankee dollars the
vast lumbering plants and mills in the Southern-pine
section, the little towns which had been
hamlets without change or alteration for fifty
years, booming and soaring into cities
overnight above the stump-pocked barrens which
would remain until in simple economic
desperation people taught themselves to farm
pine trees as in other sections they had already
learned to farm corn and cotton.

And Northern lumber mills in the Delta too:
the mid-twenties now and the Delta booming
with cotton and timber both. But mostly
booming with simple money: increment a
troglodyte which had fathered twin
troglodytes: solvency and bankruptcy, the three
of them booming money into the land so fast
that the problem was how to get rid of it before
it whelmed you into suffocation. Until in
something almost resembling self-defense, seven or
eight of the bigger Delta towns formed a
baseball league, presently raiding as far away—and
successfully too—for pitchers and short-stops
and slugging outfielders as the two major
leagues; the boy, a young man now, making
acquaintance with this league and one of the
big Northern lumber companies not only
co-incidently with one another but because of one

At this time the young man’s attitude was
that of most other young men who had been
around twenty-one years of age in April 1917,
even though at times he did admit to himself
that he was possibly using the fact that he had
been nineteen on that day as an excuse to follow
the avocation he was coming more and more
to know would be forever his true one: to be a
tramp, a harmless possessionless vagabond. In
any case, he was quite ripe to make the
acquaintance of the league; it began with that of the
lumber company, which at the moment was
taking a leisurely bankruptcy. A lawyer had
been appointed referee in the bankruptcy: a
friend of the young man’s family and older than
he, yet who had taken a liking to the young
man and so invited him to come along for the
ride too. His official capacity was that of
interpreter, since he had a little French and the
defuncting company had European connections.
But no interpreting was ever done, since
the entourage did not go to Europe but moved
instead into a single floor of a Memphis hotel,
where all—including the interpreter—had the
privilege of signing chits for food and theatre
tickets and even the bootleg whisky (Tennessee
was in its dry mutation then) which the
bell-boys would produce, though not of course at
the discreet and innocent-looking places
clustered a few miles away just below the
Mississippi state line, where roulette and dice and
blackjack were available.

Then suddenly Mr. Sells Wales was in it, too,
bringing the baseball league with him. The
young man never did know what connection
(if any) Mr. Wales had with the bankruptcy,
nor really bothered to wonder, let alone care to
ask, not only because he had developed already
that sense of noblesse oblige towards the
avocation which he knew was his true one, which
would have been reason enough, but because
Mr. Wales himself was already a legend in the
Delta. Owner of a plantation measured not in
acres but in miles and reputedly sole owner of
one of the league baseball teams or anyway
most of its players, certainly of the catcher and
the base-stealing short-stop and the .340-hitting
outfielder ravished or pirated, it was said, from
the Chicago Cubs, his ordinary costume seven
days a week was a two or three days’ beard and
muddy high-boots and a corduroy hunting
coat, the tale, the legend telling of how he
entered a swank St. Louis hotel in that costume
late one night and demanded a room of a
dinner-jacketed clerk, who looked once at the beard
and the muddy boots but probably mostly at
Mr. Wales’ face and said they were filled up:
whereupon Mr. Wales asked how much they
wanted for the hotel and was told, superciliously,
in tens of thousands, and—so told the
legend—drew from his corduroy hip a wad of
thousand-dollar bills sufficient to have bought
the hotel half again at the price stated and told
the clerk he wanted every room in the building
vacated in ten minutes.

That one of course was apocryphal, but the
young man himself saw this one: Mr. Wales
and himself having a leisurely breakfast one
noon in the Memphis hotel when Mr. Wales
remembered suddenly that his private ball club
was playing one of its most important games at
a town about sixty miles away at three o’clock
that afternoon and telephoned to the railroad
station to have a special train ready for them in
thirty minutes, which it was: an engine and a
caboose: reaching Coahoma about three
o’clock with a mile still to the ball park: a man
(there were no taxis at the station at that hour
and few in Mississippi anywhere at that time)
sitting behind the wheel of a dingy though
still sound Cadillac car, and Mr. Wales said:

“What do you want for it?”

“What?” the man in the car said.

“Your automobile,” Mr. Wales said.

“Twelve fifty,” the man said.

“All right,” Mr. Wales said, opening the door.

“I mean twelve hundred and fifty dollars,”
the man said.

“All right,” Mr. Wales said, then to the
young man: “Jump in.”

“Hold up here, Mister,” the man said.

“I’ve bought it,” Mr. Wales said, getting in
too. “The ball park,” he said. “Hurry.”

The young man never saw the Cadillac again,
though he became quite familiar with the
engine and caboose during the next succeeding
weeks while the league pennant race waxed
hotter and hotter, Mr. Wales keeping the special
train on call in the Memphis yards as twenty-five
years earlier a city-dwelling millionaire
might have hacked a carriage and pair to his
instant nod, so that it seemed to the young man
that he would barely get back to Memphis to
rest before they would be rushing once more
down the Delta to another baseball game.

“I ought to be interpreting, sometime,” he
said once.

“Interpret, then,” Mr. Wales said. “Interpret
what this goddamn cotton market is going to
do tomorrow, and we can both quit chasing
this blank blank sandlot ball team.”

The cotton seed and the lumber mills were
clearing the rest of the delta, too, pushing what
remained of the wilderness further and further
southward into the V of Big River and the
hills. When the young man, a youth of sixteen
and seventeen then, was first accepted into that
hunting club of which he in his hierarchal time
would be Master, the hunting grounds, haunt
of deer and bear and wild turkey, could be
reached in a single day or night in a mule-drawn
wagon. Now they were using automobiles: a
hundred miles then two hundred southward
and still southward as the wilderness dwindled
into the confluence of the Yazoo River and the
big one, the Old Man.

The Old Man: all his little contributing
streams levee’d too, along with him, and paying
none of the dykes any heed at all when it suited
his mood and fancy, gathering water all the
way from Montana to Pennsylvania every
generation or so and rolling it down the
artificial gut of his victims’ puny and baseless
hoping, piling the water up, not fast, just
inexorably, giving plenty of time to measure
his crest and telegraph ahead, even warning of
the exact day almost when he would enter the
house and float the piano out of it and the
pictures off the walls, and even remove the
house itself if it were not securely fastened

Inexorable and unhurried, overpassing one
by one his little confluent feeders and shoving
the water into them until for days their current
would flow backward, upstream: as far
upstream as Wylie’s Crossing above Jefferson.
The little rivers were dyked, too, but back here
was the land of individualists: remnants and
descendants of the tall men now taken to
farming, and of Snopeses who were more than
individualists: they were Snopeses, so that
where the owners of the thousand-acre
plantations along the Big River confederated as one
man with sandbags and machines and their
Negro tenants and wage-hands to hold the
sandboils and the cracks, back here the owner
of the hundred- or two-hundred-acre farm
patrolled his section of levee with a sandbag in
one hand and his shotgun in the other, lest his
upstream neighbour dynamite it to save his
(the upstream neighbor’s) own.

Piling up the water while white man and
Negro worked side by side in shifts in the mud
and the rain, with automobile headlights and
gasoline flares and kegs of whisky and coffee
boiling in fifty-gallon batches in scoured and
scalded oil drums; lapping, tentative, almost
innocently, merely inexorable (no hurry, his)
among and beneath and between and finally
over the frantic sandbags, as if his whole
purpose had been merely to give man another
chance to prove, not to him but to man, just
how much the human body could bear, stand,
endure; then, having let man prove it, doing
what he could have done at any time these past
weeks if so minded: removing with no haste,
nor any particular malice or fury either, a mile
or two miles of levee and coffee drums and
whisky kegs and gas flares in one sloughing
collapse, gleaming dully for a little while yet
among the parallel cotton middles until the
fields vanished along with the roads and lanes
and at last the towns themselves.

Vanished, gone beneath one vast yellow
motionless expanse, out of which projected only
the tops of trees and telephone poles and the
decapitations of human dwelling-places like
enigmatic objects placed by inscrutable and
impenetrable design on a dirty mirror; and the
mounds of the predecessors on which, among a
tangle of moccasins, bear and horses and deer
and mules and wild turkeys and cows and
domestic chickens waited patient in mutual
armistice; and the levees themselves, where
among a jumble of uxorious flotsam the young
continued to be born and the old to die, not
from exposure but from simple and normal
time and decay, as if man and his destiny were
in the end stronger even than the river which
had dispossessed him, inviolable by and
invincible to alteration.

Then, having proved that too, he—the Old
Man—would withdraw, not retreat: subside,
back from the land slowly and inexorably too,
emptying the confluent rivers and bayous back
into the old vain hopeful gut, but so slowly and
gradually that not the waters seemed to fall but
the flat earth itself to rise, creep in one plane
back into light and air again: one constant stain
of yellow-brown at one constant altitude on
telephone poles and the walls of gins and houses
and stores as though the line had been laid off
with a transit and painted in one gigantic
unbroken brush stroke, the earth itself one alluvial
inch higher, the rich dirt one inch deeper,
drying into long cracks beneath the hot fierce
glare of May: but not for long, because almost
at once came the plough, the ploughing and
planting already two months late but that did
not matter: the cotton man-tall once more by
August and whiter and denser still by picking
time, as if the Old Man said, “I do what I want
to, when I want to. But I pay my way.”

And the boats, of course, they projected
above that yellow and liquid plane and even
moved upon it: the skiffs and scows of
fishermen and trappers, the launches of the United
States Engineers who operated the Levee
Commission, and one small shallow-draught
steamboat in paradox among and across the
cotton fields themselves, its pilot not a
riverman but a farmer who knew where the
submerged fences were, its masthead lookout a
mechanic with a pair of pliers to cut the
telephone wires to pass the smokestack through:
no paradox really, since on the River it had
resembled a house to begin with, so that here it
looked no different from the baseless houses it
steamed among and on occasion even strained
at top boiler pressure to overtake, like a mallard
drake after a fleeing mallard hen.

But these boats were not enough, very
quickly not near enough, the Old Man meant
business indeed this time. So now there began
to arrive from the Gulf ports the shrimp
trawlers and pleasure cruisers and Coast Guard
cutters whose bottoms had known only salt
water and the mouths of tidal rivers, to be run
still by their salt-water crews but conned by the
men who knew where the submerged roads
and fences were for the good reason that they
had been running mule-plough furrows along
them or up to them all their lives; sailing among
the swollen carcasses of horses and mules and
deer and cows and sheep to pluck the Old Man’s
patient flotsam, black and white, out of trees
and the roofs of gins and cotton sheds and
floating cabins and the second-storey windows
of houses and office buildings; then—the
salt-water men, to whom land was either a featureless
treeless salt marsh or a snake- and
alligator-infested swamp impenetrable with trumpet
vine and Spanish moss, some of whom had
never even seen the earth into which were
driven the spiles supporting the houses they
lived in—staying on even after they were no
longer needed, as though waiting to see emerge
from the water what sort of country it was
which bore the economy on which the people—men
and women, black and white, more of
black than white even, ten to one more—lived
whom they had saved; seeing the land for that
moment before mule and plough altered it
right up to the water’s receding edge, then
back into the River again before the trawlers
and cruisers and cutters became marooned into
canted and useless rubble too along with the
ruined hencoops and cowsheds and privies;
back on to the Old Man, shrunken once more
into his normal banks, drowsing and even
innocent looking, as if it were something else
besides him that had changed, for a little time
anyway, the whole face of the adjacent earth.

They were homeward bound now, passing
the river towns, some of which were respectable
in age when South Mississippi was a Spanish
wilderness: Greenville and Vicksburg, Natchez
and Grand Gulf and Petit Gulf (vanished now
and even the old site known by a different
name) which had known Mason and one at
least of the Harpes and from or on which
Murrell had based his abortive slave insurrection
intended to efface the white people from the
land and leave him emperor of it—the land
sinking away beyond the levee until presently
you could no longer say where water began and
earth stopped: only that these lush and verdant
sunny savannas would no longer bear your
weight. The rivers flowed no longer west, but
south now, no longer yellow or brown, but
black, threading the miles of yellow salt marsh
from which, on an off-shore breeze, mosquitoes
came in such clouds that in your itching and
burning anguish it would seem that you could
actually see them in faint adumbration crossing
the earth; and met tide and then the uncorrupted
salt: not the Gulf quite yet but at least
the Sound behind the long barrier of the
islands—Ship and Horn and Petit Bois, the trawler
and cruiser bottoms home again now among
the lighthouses and channel markers and shipyards
and drying nets and processing plants for fish.

The man remembered that from his youth
too: one summer spent being blown innocently
over in cat-boats since, born and bred for
generations in the north Mississippi hinterland,
he did not recognise the edge of a squall until
he already had one. The next summer he
returned because he found that he liked that
much water, this time as a hand in one of the
trawlers; remembering: a four-gallon iron pot
over a red bed of charcoal on the foredeck, in
which decapitated shrimp boiled among
handfuls of salt and black pepper, never emptied,
never washed and constantly renewed, so that
you ate them all day long in passing like
peanuts; remembering: the predawn, to be broken
presently by the violent near-subtropical
yellow-and-crimson day almost like an audible
explosion, but still dark for a little while yet,
the dark ship creeping on to the shrimp grounds
in a soundless sternward swirl of phosphorus
like a drowning tumble of fireflies, the youth
lying face down on the peak staring into the
dark water watching the disturbed shrimp
burst outward-shooting in fiery and fading fans
like the trails of tiny rockets.

He learned the harrier islands too; one of a
crew of five amateurs sailing a big sloop in
offshore races, he learned not only how to keep a
hull on its keel and moving but how to get it
from one place to another and bring it back: so
that, a professional now, living in New Orleans,
he commanded for pay a power launch
belonging to a bootlegger (this was the twenties),
whose crew consisted of a Negro cook-deckhand-stevedore
and the bootlegger’s younger
brother Pete: a slim twenty-one-or-two-year-old
Italian with yellow eyes like a cat and a silk
shirt bulged faintly by an armpit-holstered
pistol too small in calibre to have done
anything but got them all killed, even if the captain
or the cook had dreamed of resisting or
resenting trouble if and when it came; the captain or
the cook would extract the pistol from the
holster and hide it at the first opportunity (not
concealed really: just dropped into the oily
bilge under the engine, where, even though
Pete soon discovered where it would be, it was
safe because he refused to thrust his hand and
arm into the oil-fouled water but instead merely
lay about the cockpit, sulking); taking the
launch across Pontchartrain and down the
Rigolets cut to the Gulf, the Sound, then lying-to
with no lights showing until the Coast Guard
cutter (it ran almost on schedule; theirs was a
job, too, even if it was, comparatively speaking,
a hopeless one) made its fast haughty eastward
rush, going, they always liked to believe, to
Mobile, to a dance; then by compass on to the
island (it was little more than a sandspit bearing
a line of ragged and shabby pines thrashing
always in the windy crash and roar of the true
Gulf on the other side of it) where the
Caribbean schooner would bury the casks of green
alcohol which the bootlegger’s mother back in
New Orleans would convert and bottle and
label into Scotch or Bourbon or gin. There
were a few wild cattle on the island which they
would have to watch for, the Negro digging
and Pete still sulking and refusing to help at all
because of the pistol, and the captain watching
for the charge (they couldn’t risk showing a
light) which every three or four trips would
come—the gaunt, wild, half-seen shapes
charging suddenly and with no warning down at
them as they turned and ran through the
nightmare sand and hurled themselves into the
dinghy, to pull along parallel to the shore, the
animals following, until they had tolled them
far enough away for the Negro to go back
ashore for the remaining casks. Then they
would heave-to again and lie until the cutter
passed back westward, the dance obviously
over now, in the same haughty and imperious

That was Mississippi too, though a different
one from where the child had been bred; the
people were Catholics, the Spanish and French
blood still showed in the names and faces. But
it was not a deep one, if you did not count the
sea and the boats on it: a curve of beach, a thin
unbroken line of estates and apartment hotels
owned and inhabited by Chicago millionaires,
standing back to back with another thin line,
this time of tenements inhabited by Negroes
and whites who ran the boats and worked in
the fish-processing plants.

Then the Mississippi which the young man
knew began: the fading purlieus inhabited
by a people whom the young man recognised
because their like was in his country too:
descendants, heirs at least in spirit, of the tall
men, who worked in no factories and farmed
no land nor even truck patches, living not out
of the earth but on its denizens: fishing guides
and individual professional fishermen, trappers
of muskrats and alligator hunters and poachers of
deer, the land rising now, once more earth
instead of half water, vista-ed and arras-ed with
the long-leaf pines which Northern capital
would convert into dollars in Ohio and Indiana
and Illinois banks. Though not all of it. Some
of it would alter hamlets and villages into cities
and even build whole new ones almost
overnight, cities with Mississippi names but
patterned on Ohio and Indiana and Illinois
because they were bigger than Mississippi
towns, rising, standing today among the tall
pines which created them, then tomorrow (that
quick, that fast, that rapid) among the stumpy
pock-age to which they were monuments. Because
the land had made its one crop: the soil
too fine and light to compete seriously in
cotton: until people discovered that it would
grow what other soils would not: the tomatoes
and strawberries and the fine cane for sugar:
not the sorghum of the northern and western
counties which people of the true cane country
called hog feed, but the true sweet cane which
made the sugarhouse molasses.

Big towns, for Mississippi: cities, we called
them: Hattiesburg, and Laurel, and Meridian,
and Canton; and towns deriving by name from
further away than Ohio: Kosciusko named
after a Polish general who thought that people
should be free who wanted to be; and Egypt
because there was corn there when it was
nowhere else in the bad lean times of the old war
which the old women had still never
surrendered; and Philadelphia where the Neshoba
Indians whose name the county bears still
remain for the simple reason that they did not
mind living in peace with other people, no
matter what their color or politics. This was
the hills now: Jones County which old Newt
Knight, its principal proprietor and first citizen
or denizen, whichever you liked, seceded from
the Confederacy in 1862, establishing still a
third republic within the boundaries of the
United States until a Confederate military force
subdued him in his embattled log-castle capital;
and Sullivan’s Hollow: a long narrow glen
where a few clans or families with North
Ireland and Highland names feuded and slew
one another in the old pre-Culloden fashion,
yet banding together immediately and always
to resist any outsider in the pre-Culloden
fashion too: vide the legend of the revenue officer
hunting illicit whisky stills, captured and held
prisoner in a stable and worked in traces as the
mate to a plough mule. No Negro ever let
darkness catch him in Sullivan’s Hollow. In fact,
there were few Negroes in this country at all:
a narrow strip of which extended up into the
young man’s own section: a remote district
through which Negroes passed infrequently and
rapidly and only by daylight.

It is not very wide, because almost at once
there begins to the east of it the prairie country
which sheds its water into Alabama and Mobile
Bay, with its old tight intermarried towns and
plantation houses columned and porticoed in
the traditional Georgian manner of Virginia
and Carolina in place of the Spanish and French
influence of Natchez. These towns are
Columbus and Aberdeen and West Point, and
Shuqualak, where the good quail shooting is
and the good bird dogs are bred and
trained—horses too: hunters; Dancing Rabbit is here,
too, where the treaty dispossessing them of
Mississippi was made between the Choctaws
and the United States; and in one of the towns
lived a kinsman of the young man, dead now,
rest him: an invincible and incorrigible
bachelor, a leader of cotillions and an inveterate
diner-out since any time an extra single man
was needed, any hostess thought of him first.

But he was a man’s man, too, and even more:
a young man’s man, who played poker and
matched glasses with the town’s young
bachelors and the apostates still young enough
in time to still resist the wedlock; who walked
not only in spats and a stick and yellow gloves
and a Homburg hat, but an air of sardonic and
inviolable atheism, too, until at last he was
forced to the final desperate resort of prayer:
sitting after supper one night among the
drummers in the row of chairs on the sidewalk
before the Gilmer Hotel, waiting to see what
(if anything) the evening would bring, when
two of the young bachelors passing in a Model
T Ford stopped and invited him to drive across
the line into the Alabama hills for a gallon of
moonshine whisky. Which they did. But the
still they sought was not in hills because these
were not hills: it was the dying tail of the
Appalachian mountain range. But since the
Model T’s engine had to be running fast
anyway for it to have any headlights, going up the
mountain was an actual improvement, especially
after they had to drop to low gear. And
coming from the generation before the motor
car, it never occurred to him that coming back
down would be any different until they got the
gallon and had a drink from it and turned
around and started back down. Or maybe it
was the whisky, he said, telling it: the little car
rushing faster and faster behind a thin wash of
light of about the same volume that two
lightning bugs would have made, around the
plunging curves which, the faster the car ran,
became only the more frequent and sharp and
plunging, whipping around the nearly right-angle
bends with a rock wall on one hand and
several hundred feet of vertical and empty
night on the other, until at last he prayed; he
said: “Lord, You know I haven’t worried You
in over forty years, and if You’ll just get me
back to Columbus I promise never to bother
You again.”

And now the young man, middle-aged now
or anyway middle-aging, is back home, too,
where they who altered the swamps and forests
of his youth have now altered the face of the
earth itself; what he remembered as dense
river-bottom jungle and rich farmland is now
an artificial lake twenty-five miles long: a
flood-control project for the cotton fields
below the huge earth dam, with a few more
outboard-powered fishing skiffs on it each year,
and at last a sailboat. On his way into town
from his home the middle-aging man (now a
professional fiction writer: who had wanted to
remain the tramp and the possessionless
vagabond of his young manhood but time and
success and the hardening of his arteries had
beaten him) would pass the back yard of a
doctor friend whose son was an undergraduate
at Harvard. One day the undergraduate stopped
him and invited him in and showed him the
unfinished hull of a twenty-foot sloop, saying,
“When I get her finished, Mr. Bill, I want you
to help me sail her.” And each time he passed
after that, the undergraduate would repeat:
“Remember, Mr. Bill, I want you to help me
sail her as soon as I get her in the water”: to
which the middle-aging would answer as
always: “Fine, Arthur. Just let me know.”

Then one day he came out of the post office:
a voice called him from a taxicab, which in
small Mississippi towns was any motor car
owned by any foot-loose young man who liked
to drive, who decreed himself a cabbie as
Napoleon decreed himself emperor; in the car
with the driver was the undergraduate and a
young man whose father had vanished recently
somewhere in the West out of the ruins of the
bank of which he had been president, and a
fourth young man whose type is universal: the
town clown, comedian, whose humour is
without viciousness and quite often witty and
always funny. “She’s in the water, Mr. Bill,”
the undergraduate said. “Are you ready to go
now?” And he was, and the sloop was, too;
the undergraduate had sewn his own sails on
his mother’s machine; they worked her out
into the lake and got her on course all tight and
drawing, when suddenly it seemed to the
middle-aging that part of him was no longer
in the sloop but about ten feet away, looking at
what he saw: a Harvard undergraduate, a taxi
driver, the son of an absconded banker and a
village clown and a middle-aged novelist sailing
a home-made boat on an artificial lake in the
depths of the north Mississippi hills: and he
thought that that was something which did not
happen to you more than once in your life.

Home again, his native land; he was born of
it and his bones will sleep in it; loving it even
while hating some of it: the river jungle and
the bordering hills where, still a child, he had
ridden behind his father on the horse after the
bobcat or fox or coon or whatever was ahead
of the belling hounds, and where he had hunted
alone when he got big enough to be trusted
with a gun—all this now the bottom of a
muddy lake being raised gradually and steadily
every year by another layer of beer cans and
bottle caps and lost bass plugs. And the
wilderness, the two weeks in the woods, in camp, the
rough food and the rough sleeping, the life of
men and horses and hounds among men and
horses and hounds, not to slay the game but to
pursue it, touch and let go, never satiety—moved
now even further away than that down
the flat Delta so that the mile-long freight trains,
visible for miles across the fields where the
cotton is mortgaged in February, planted in
May, harvested in September and put into the
Farm Loan in October in order to pay off
February’s mortgage in order to mortgage
next year’s crop, seem to be passing two or
even three of the little Indian-named hamlets
at once over the very ground where, a youth
now capable of being trusted even with a rifle,
he had shared in the yearly ritual of Old Ben:
the big old bear with one trap-ruined foot who
had earned for himself a name, a designation
like a living man through the legend of the
deadfalls and traps he had wrecked and the
hounds he had slain and the shots he had
survived, until Boon Hogganbeck, the youth’s
father’s stable foreman, ran in and killed it with
a hunting knife to save a hound which he, Boon
Hogganbeck, loved.

But most of all he hated the intolerance and
injustice: the lynching of Negroes not for the
crimes they committed but because their skins
were black (the lynchings were becoming
fewer and fewer and soon there would be no
more of them but the evil would have been
done and irrevocable because there should
never have been any); the inequality: the poor
schools they had then when they had any, the
hovels they had to live in unless they wanted to
live outdoors: who could worship the white
man’s God but not in the white man’s church;
pay taxes in the white man’s courthouse but
couldn’t vote in it or for it; working by the
white man’s clock but having to take his pay
by the white man’s counting (Captain Joe
Thoms, a Delta planter though not one of the
big ones, who after a bad crop year drew a
thousand silver dollars from the bank and called
his five tenants one by one into the dining room
where two hundred of the dollars were spread
carelessly out on the table beneath the lamp,
saying: “Well, Jim, that’s what we made this
year.” Then the Negro: “Gret God, Cap’n Joe,
is all that mine?” And Captain Thoms: “No,
no, just half of it is yours. The other half
belongs to me, remember.”); the bigotry which
could send to Washington some of the
Senators and Congressmen we sent there and
which could erect in a town no bigger than
Jefferson five separate denominations of
churches but set aside not one square foot of
ground where children could play and old
people could sit and watch them.

But he loves it, it is his, remembering: the
trying to, having to, stay in bed until the crack
of dawn would bring Christmas; and of the
other times almost as good as Christmas: of
being waked at three o’clock to have breakfast
by lamplight in order to drive by surrey into
town and the depot to take the morning train
for the three or four days in Memphis where he
would see automobiles, and the day in 1910
when, twelve years old, he watched John
Moissant land a bicycle-wheeled aileronless
(you warped the whole wing-tip to bank it or
hold it level) Bleriot monoplane on the infield
of the Memphis race track and knew forever
after that someday he too would have to fly
alone; remembering: his first sweetheart, aged
eight, plump and honey-haired and demure
and named Mary, the two of them sitting side
by side on the kitchen steps eating ice cream;
and another one, Minnie this time,
grand-daughter of the old hillman from whom, a man
himself now, he bought moonshine whisky,
come to town at seventeen to take a job behind
the soda counter of the drugstore, watching her
virginal and innocent and without self-consciousness
pour Coca-Cola syrup into the lifted
glass by hooking her thumb through the ring
of the jug and swinging it back and up in one
unbroken motion on to her horizontal upper
arm exactly as he had seen her grandfather
pour out whisky from a jug a thousand times.

Even while hating it, because for every Joe
Thoms with two hundred silver dollars and
every Snopes in a hooded nightshirt,
somewhere in Mississippi there was this too:
remembering: Ned, born in a cabin in the back
yard in 1865, in the time of the middle-aged’s
great-grandfather, and who had outlived three
generations of them, who had not only walked
and talked so constantly for so many years with
the three generations that he walked and talked
like them, he had two tremendous trunks filled
with the clothes which they had worn—not
only the blue brass-buttoned frock coat and the
plug hat in which he had been the great-grandfather’s
and the grandfather’s coachman,
but the broadcloth frock coats which the
great-grandfather himself had worn, and the
pigeon-tailed ones of the grandfather’s time and the
short coat of his father’s which the middle-aged
could remember on the backs for which they
had been tailored, along with the hats in their
eighty years of mutation too: so that, glancing
idly up and out the library window, the middle-aged
would see that back, that stride, that coat
and hat going down the drive towards the road,
and his heart would stop and even turn over.
He (Ned) was eighty-four now and in these
last few years he had begun to get a little mixed
up, calling the middle-aged not only Master
but sometimes Master Murry, who was the
middle-aged’s father, and Colonel too, coming
once a week through the kitchen and into the
parlour, saying: “Here’s where I wants to
lay, right here where I can be facing out that
window. And I wants it to be a sunny day, so
the sun can come in on me. And I wants you to
preach the sermon. I wants you to take a dram
of whisky for me, and lay yourself back and
preach the best sermon you ever preached.”

And Caroline too, whom the middle-aged
had inherited too in his hierarchal turn, nobody
knowing any more exactly how many more
years than a hundred she was. But not mixed
up, she: who had forgotten nothing, calling
the middle-aged “Memmy” still, from fifty-odd
years ago when that was as close as his
brothers could come to “William”; his
youngest daughter, aged four and five and six,
coming in to the house and saying, “Pappy,
Mammy said to tell you not to forget you owe
her eighty-nine dollars.”

“I won’t,” the middle-aged would say.
“What are you all doing now?”

“Piecing a quilt,” the daughter answered.
Which they were. There was electricity in her
cabin now, but she would not use it, insisting
still on the kerosene lamps which she had always
known. Nor would she use the spectacles either,
wearing them merely as an ornament across
the brow of the immaculate white
cloth—head-rag—which bound her now hairless
head. She did not need them: a smoulder of
wood ashes on the hearth winter and summer
in which sweet potatoes roasted, the five-year-old
white child in a miniature rocking chair at
one side of it and the aged Negress, not a great
deal larger, in her chair at the other, the basket
bright with scraps and fragments of cloth
between them and in that dim light in which
the middle-aged himself could not have read
his own name without his glasses, the two of
them with infinitesimal and tedious and patient
stitches annealing the bright stars and squares
and diamonds into another pattern to be
folded away among the cedar shavings in the

Then it was the Fourth of July, the kitchen
was closed after breakfast so the cook and
houseman could attend a big picnic; in the middle of
the hot morning the aged Negress and the
white child gathered green tomatoes from the
garden and ate them with salt, and that
afternoon beneath the mulberry tree in the back
yard the two of them ate most of a fifteen-pound
chilled watermelon, and that night
Caroline had the first stroke. It should have
been the last, the doctor thought so too. But by
daylight she had rallied, and that morning the
generations of her loins began to arrive, from
her own seventy- and eighty-year-old children,
down through their great- and twice-great-grandchildren,
faces which the middle-aged
had never seen before, until the cabin would no
longer hold them: the women and girls sleeping
on the floor inside and the men and boys sleeping
on the ground in front of it, Caroline herself
conscious now and presently sitting up in
bed: who had forgotten nothing: matriarchal
and imperial, and more: imperious: ten and
even eleven o’clock at night and the middle-aged
himself undressed and in bed, reading,
when sure enough he would hear the slow quiet
stockinged or naked feet mounting the back
stairs; presently the strange dark face—never
the same one of two nights ago or the two or
three nights before that—would look in the
door at him, and the quiet, courteous, never
servile voice would say: “She want the ice
cream.” And he would rise and dress and drive
in to the village; he would even drive through
the village although he knew that everything
there would have long been closed and he
would do what he had done two nights ago;
drive thirty miles on to the arterial highway
and then up or down it until he found an open
drive-in or hot-dog stand to sell him the quart
of ice cream.

But that stroke was not the one; she was
walking again presently, even, despite the
houseman’s standing order to forestall her with
the automobile, all the way into town to sit
with his, the middle-aging’s, mother, talking,
he liked to think, of the old days of his father
and himself and the three younger brothers, the
two of them, two women who together had
never weighed two hundred pounds, in a house
roaring with five men: though they probably
didn’t, since women, unlike men, have learned
how to live uncomplicated by that sort of
sentimentality. But it was as if she knew herself
that the summer’s stroke was like the
throat-clearing sound inside the grandfather clock
preceding the stroke of midnight or of noon,
because she never touched the last unfinished
quilt again. Presently it had vanished, no one
knew where, and as the cold came and the
shortening days she began to spend more and
more time in the house, not her cabin but the
big house, sitting in a corner of the kitchen
while the cook and houseman were about, then
in the middle-aging’s wife’s sewing room until
the family gathered for the evening meal, the
houseman carrying her rocking chair into the
dining-room to sit there while they ate: until
suddenly (it was almost Christmas now) she
insisted on sitting in the parlor until the meal
was ready, none knew why, until at last she
told them, through the wife: “Miss Hestelle,
when them niggers lays me out, I want you
to make me a fresh clean cap and apron to lay
in.” That was her valedictory; two days after
Christmas the stroke came which was the one;
two days after that she lay in the parlor in the
fresh cap and apron she would not see, and the
middle-aging did indeed lay back and preach
the sermon, the oration, hoping that when his
turn came there would be someone in the world
to owe him the sermon owed to her by all who
had been, as he had been from infancy, within
the scope and range of that fidelity and that
devotion and that rectitude.

Loving all of it even while he had to hate
some of it because he knows now that you don’t
love because: you love despite; not for the
virtues, but despite the faults.

[End of Mississippi, by William Faulkner]