Chapter no 10

East of Eden

When two men live together they usually maintain a kind of shabby neatness out of incipient rage at each other. Two men alone are constantly

on the verge of fighting, and they know it. Adam Trask had not been home long before the tensions began to build up. The brothers saw too much of each other and not enough of anyone else.

For a few months they were busy getting Cyrus’s money in order and out at interest.

They traveled

together to Washington to look at the grave, good stone and on top an iron star with seal and a hole on the top in which to insert the stick for a little flag on Decoration Day. The brothers stood by the grave a long time, then they went away and they didn’t

mention Cyrus.


Cyrus had been

dishonest he had done it well. No one asked questions about the money. But the subject was on Charles’ mind.

Back on the farm Adam asked him, “Why don’t you buy

some new clothes?

You’re a rich man. You act like you’re afraid to spend a penny.”

“I am,” said Charles. “Why?”

“I might have to give it back.”

“Still harping on that? If there was anything wrong, don’t you think we’d have heard about it by now?” “I don’t know,” said

Charles. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

But that night he brought

up the subject again. “There’s one thing bothers me,” he began.

“About the money?” “Yes, about the money.

If you make that much money there’s bound to be a mess.” “How do you mean?”

“Well, papers and

account books and bills of sale, notes, figuring—well, we went through Father’s

things and there wasn’t none of that.”

“Maybe he burned it up.”

“Maybe he did,” said Charles.

The brothers lived by a routine

established by

Charles, and he never varied it. Charles awakened on the stroke of four-thirty as surely as though the brass pendulum of the clock had nudged him. He was awake, in fact, a split second before four-thirty. His eyes were open and had blinked once before the high gong struck. For a moment he lay still, looking up into the darkness and scratching his

stomach. Then he reached to the table beside his bed and his hand fell exactly on the block of sulphur matches lying there. His fingers pulled a match free and struck it on the side of the block. The sulphur burned its little blue bead before the wood caught. Charles lighted the candle beside his bed. He threw back his blanket and got up. He wore long gray underwear that bagged over his knees and hung loose around his ankles. Yawning, he went to the door, opened it, and called,

“Half-past four,

Adam. Time to get up. Wake up.”

Adam’s voice was

muffled. “Don’t you ever forget?”

“It’s time to get up.” Charles slipped his legs into his pants and hunched them up over his hips. “You don’t have to get up,” he said. “You’re a rich man. You can lay in bed all day.”

“So are you. But we still get up before daylight.” “You don’t have to get

up,” Charles repeated. “But if you’re going to farm, you’d better farm.”

Adam said ruefully, “So we’re going to buy more land so we can do more work.” “Come off it,” said

Charles. “Go back to bed if you want to.”

Adam said, “I bet you couldn’t sleep if you stayed in bed. You know what I bet? I bet you get up because you want to, and then you take credit for it—like taking credit for six fingers.”

Charles went into the kitchen and lighted the lamp.

“You can’t lay in bed and run a farm,” he said, and he knocked the ashes through the grate of the stove and tore some paper over the exposed coals and blew until the flames started.

Adam was watching him through

the door.


wouldn’t use a match,” he said.

Charles turned angrily.

“You mind your own goddam business. Stop picking at me.”

“All right,” said Adam. “I will. And maybe my business isn’t here.” “That’s up to you. Any

time you want to get out, you go right ahead.”

The quarrel was silly but Adam couldn’t stop it. His voice went on without his willing it, making angry and irritating

words. “You’re

damn right I’ll go when I want,” he said. “This is my

place as much as yours.” “Then why don’t you do some work on it?”

“Oh, Lord!” Adam said. “What are we fussing about? Let’s not fuss.”

“I don’t want trouble,” said Charles. He scooped lukewarm mush into two

bowls and spun them on the table.

The brothers sat down. Charles buttered a slice of bread, gouged out a knifeful of jam, and spread it over the butter. He dug butter for his second slice and left a slop of jam on the butter roll. “Goddam it, can’t you

wipe your knife? Look at that butter!”

Charles laid his knife

and the bread on the table and placed his hands palm down on either side. “You better get off the place,” he said.

Adam got up. “I’d rather live in a pigsty,” he said, and he walked out of the house. 2

It was eight months before Charles

saw him again.

Charles came in from work and found Adam sloshing water on his hair and face from the kitchen bucket. “Hello,” said Charles. “How are you?”

“Fine,” said Adam. “Where’d you go?” “Boston.”

“No place else?”

“No. Just looked at the city.”

The brothers settled back

to their old life, but each took precautions against anger. In a way each protected the other and so saved himself.

Charles, always the early riser, got breakfast ready before he awakened Adam. And Adam kept the house clean and started a set of books on the farm. In this guarded way they lived for two

years before their

irritation grew beyond control again.

On a winter evening

Adam looked up from his account book. “It’s nice in California,” he said. “It’s nice in the winter. And you can raise anything there.”

“Sure you can raise it.

But when you got it, what are you going to do with it?” “How

about wheat?

They raise a lot of wheat in California.”

“The rust will get to it,” said Charles.

“What makes you so

sure? Look, Charles, things grow so fast in California they say you have to plant and step back quick or you’ll get knocked down.”

Charles said, “Why the

hell don’t you go there? I’ll buy you out any time you say.”

Adam was quiet then,

but in the morning while he combed his hair and peered in the small mirror he began it again.

“They don’t have any

winter in California,” he said. “It’s just like spring all the time.”

“I like the winter,” said Charles.

Adam came toward the stove. “Don’t be cross,” he said.

“Well, stop picking at me. How many eggs?” “Four,” said Adam.

Charles placed seven

eggs on top of the warming

oven and built his fire carefully of small pieces of kindling

until it


fiercely. He put the skillet down next to the flame. His sullenness left him as he fried the bacon.

“Adam,” he said, “I don’t know whether you

notice it, but it seems like every other word you say is California. Do you really want to go?”

Adam chuckled. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s like getting up in the morning. I don’t want to get up but I don’t want to stay in

bed either.”

“You sure make a fuss about it.” said Charles. Adam went on, “Every morning in the army that damned bugle would sound.

And I swore to God if I ever got out I would sleep till noon every day. And here I get up

a half-hour before reveille. Will you tell me, Charles, what in hell we’re working for?”

“You can’t lay in bed

and run a farm,” said Charles. He stirred the hissing bacon around with a fork.

“Take a look at it,”

Adam said earnestly.

“Neither one of us has got a

chick or a child, let alone a wife. And the way we’re going it don’t look like we ever will. We don’t have time to look around for a wife.

And here we’re figuring to add the Clark place to ours if the price is right. What for?” “It’s a damn fine piece,”

said Charles. “The two of them together would make one of the best farms in this section. Say! You thinking of getting married?”

“No. And that’s what

I’m talking about. Come a few years and we’ll have the finest farm in this section.

Two lonely old farts working our tails off. Then one of us will die off and the fine farm will belong to one lonely old

fart, and then he’ll die off—” “What the hell are you talking



demanded. “Fellow can’t get comfortable. You make me itch. Get it out—what’s on your mind?”

“I’m not having any

fun,” said Adam. “Or anyway I’m not having enough. I’m working too hard for what I’m getting, and I don’t have to work at all.”

“Well, why don’t you quit?” Charles shouted at

him. “Why don’t you get the hell out? I don’t see any guards holding you. Go down to the South Seas and lay in a hammock if that’s what you


“Don’t be cross,” said Adam quietly. “It’s like

getting up. I don’t want to get up and I don’t want to stay down. I don’t want to stay here and I don’t want to go away.”

“You make me itch,” said Charles.

“Think about it, Charles. You like it here?”


“And you want to live here all your life?” “Yes.”

“Jesus, I wish I had it that easy. What do you

suppose is the matter with me?”

“I think you’ve got

knocker fever. Come in to the

inn tonight and get it cured up.”

“Maybe that’s it,” said Adam. “But I never took much

satisfaction in

a whore.”

“It’s all the same,”

Charles said. “You shut your eyes and you can’t tell the difference.”

“Some of the boys in the regiment used to keep a squaw around. I had one for a while.”

Charles turned to him

with interest. “Father would turn in his grave if he knew you was squawing around. How was it?”

“Pretty nice. She’d wash

my clothes and mend and do a little cooking.”

“I mean the other—how was that?”

“Good. Yes, good. And kind of sweet—kind of soft

and sweet. Kind of gentle and soft.”

“You’re lucky she didn’t put a knife in you while you were asleep.”

“She wouldn’t. She was sweet.”

“You’ve got a funny

look in your eye. I guess you were kind of gone on that squaw.”

“I guess I was,” said Adam.

“What happened

to her?”


“You didn’t get another one?”

Adam’s eyes were

pained. “We piled them up like they were logs, over two hundred,

arms and legs

sticking out. And we piled brush on top and poured coal oil on.”

“I’ve heard they can’t stand smallpox.”

“It kills them,” said

Adam. “You’re burning that bacon.”

Charles turned quickly

back to the stove. “It’ll just be crisp,” he said, “I like it crisp.” He shoveled the bacon out on a plate and broke the eggs in the hot grease and they jumped and fluttered their edges to brown lace and made clucking sounds. “There

was a

schoolteacher,” Charles said. “Prettiest thing you ever saw. Had little tiny feet. Bought all her clothes in New York.

Yellow hair, and you never saw such little feet. Sang too, in the choir. Everybody took to going to church. Damn near stampeded getting into church. That was quite a

while ago.”

“ ‘Bout the time you wrote about thinking of getting married?”

Charles grinned. “I

guess so. I guess there wasn’t a young buck in the county didn’t

get the

marrying fever.” “What happened to


“Well, you know how it is. The women got kind of

restless with her here. They got together. First thing you

knew they had her out. I heard

she wore silk

underwear. Too hoity toity. School board had her out halfway through the term. Feet no longer than that.

Showed her ankles too, like it was an accident. Always showing her ankles.”

“Did you get to know her?” Adam asked. “No. I only went to

church. Couldn’t hardly get in. Girl that pretty’s got no right in a little town. Just makes people uneasy. Causes trouble.”

Adam said, “Remember that Samuels girl? She was

real pretty. What happened to her?”

“Same thing. Just caused trouble. She went away. I heard

she’s living in



dressmaking. I heard she gets ten dollars just for making one dress.”

“Maybe we ought to go away from here,” Adam said.

Charles said, “Still

thinking of California?” “I guess so.”

Charles’ temper tore in

two. “I want you out of here!”

he shouted. “I want you to get off the place. I’ll buy you or sell you or anything. Get out, you son of a bitch—” He stopped. “I guess I don’t mean that last. But goddam it, you make me nervous.”

“I’ll go,” said Adam.

In three months Charles got a colored picture postcard of the bay at Rio, and Adam had written on the back with a splottery pen, “It’s summer here when it’s winter there.

Why don’t you come down?”

Six months later there was

another card, from

Buenos Aires. “Dear Charles

—my God this is a big city.

They speak French and

Spanish both. I’m sending you a book.”

But no book came.

Charles looked for it all the following winter and well into the spring. And instead of the book Adam arrived. He was brown and his clothes had a foreign look.

“How are you?” Charles asked.

“Fine. Did you get the book?”

“No.” “I

wonder what

happened to it? It had pictures.”

“Going to stay?”

“I guess so. I’ll tell you about that country.”

“I don’t want to hear about it,” said Charles. “Christ, you’re mean,” said Adam.

“I can just see it all over again. You’ll stay around a year or so and then you’ll get restless and you’ll make me restless. We’ll get mad at each other and then we’ll get polite to each other—and that’s worse. Then we’ll blow up and you’ll go away again, and then you’ll come back and we’ll do it all over again.”

Adam asked, “Don’t you

want me to stay?” “Hell,

yes,” said

Charles. “I miss you when you’re not here. But I can see how it’s going to be just the same.”

And it was just that way.

For a while they reviewed old times, for a while they recounted the times when they were apart, and finally they relapsed into the long ugly silences, the hours of speechless work, the guarded courtesy, the flashes of anger. There were no boundaries to

time so that it seemed endless passing.

On an evening Adam

said, “You know, I’m going to be thirty-seven. That’s half a life.”

“Here it comes,” said Charles. “Wasting your life. Look, Adam, could we not have a fight this time?” “How do you mean?” “Well, if we run true to form we’ll fight for three or

four weeks, getting you ready to go away. If you’re getting restless, couldn’t you just go away and save all the trouble?”

Adam laughed and the tension went out of the room. “I’ve got a pretty smart

brother.” he said. “Sure, when I get the itch bad enough I’ll go without fighting. Yes, I like that. You’re getting rich, aren’t you, Charles?”

“I’m doing all right. I wouldn’t say rich.” “You wouldn’t say you

bought four buildings and the inn in the village?”

“No, I wouldn’t say it.” “But you did. Charles, you’ve made this about the prettiest

farm anywhere

about. Why don’t we build a new

house—bathtub and

running water and a water closet? We’re not poor people

any more. Why, they say you’re nearly the richest man in this section.”

“We don’t need a new house,” Charles said gruffly. “You take your fancy ideas away.”

“It would be nice to go

to the toilet without going outside.”

“You take your fancy ideas away.”

Adam was amused.

“Maybe I’ll build a pretty little house right over by the woodlot. Say, how would that be? Then we wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves.”

“I don’t want it on the place.”

“The place is half mine.” “I’ll buy you out.”

“But I don’t have to sell.”

Charles’ eyes blazed.

“I’ll burn your goddam house down.”

“I believe you would,”

Adam said, suddenly sobered. “I believe you really would.

What are you looking like that for?”

Charles said slowly,

“I’ve thought about it a lot. And I’ve wanted for you to bring it up. I guess you aren’t ever going to.”

“What do you mean?” “You remember when

you sent me a telegram for a

hundred dollars?”

“You bet I do. Saved my life, I guess. Why?” “You never paid it back.”

“I must have.” “You didn’t.”

Adam looked down at

the old table where Cyrus had sat, knocking on his wooden leg with a stick. And the old oil lamp was hanging over the center of the table, shedding its unstable yellow light from the round Rochester wick.

Adam said slowly, “I’ll pay you in the morning.” “I gave you plenty of time to offer.”

“Sure you did, Charles. I should have remembered.” He paused, considering, and

at last he said, “You don’t know why I needed the money.”

“I never asked.” “And


never told.

Maybe I was ashamed. I was a prisoner, Charles. I broke jail—I escaped.”

Charles’ mouth was

open. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m going to tell you. I was a tramp and I got taken

up for vagrancy and put on a road gang—leg irons at night. Got out in six months and picked right up again. That’s

how they get their roads built. I served three days less than the second six months and then I escaped—got over the Georgia line, robbed a store for clothes, and sent you the telegram.”

“I don’t believe you,” Charles said. “Yes, I do. You don’t tell lies. Of course I believe you. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Maybe I was ashamed.

But I’m more ashamed that I didn’t pay you.”

“Oh, forget it,” said

Charles. “I don’t know why I mentioned it.”

“Good God, no. I’ll pay you in the morning.” “I’ll be damned,” said Charles.

“My brother a


“You don’t have to look so happy.”

“I don’t know why,”

said Charles, “but it makes me kind of proud. My brother a jailbird! Tell me this, Adam

—why did you wait till just three days before they let you go to make your break?”

Adam smiled. “Two or

three reasons,” he said. “I was afraid if I served out my time, why, they’d pick me up

again. And I figured if I waited till the end they wouldn’t expect me to run away.”

“That makes sense,” said

Charles. “But you said there was one more reason.”

“I guess the other was

the most important,” Adam said, “and it’s the hardest to explain. I figured I owed the state six months. That was the sentence. I didn’t feel right about cheating. I only cheated three days.”

Charles exploded with laughter. “You’re a crazy son of a bitch,” he said with affection. “But you say you robbed a store.”

“I sent the money back with ten per cent interest,” Adam said.

Charles leaned forward.

“Tell me about the road gang, Adam.”

“Sure I will, Charles.

Sure I will.”

You'll Also Like