Chapter no 19

East of Eden

A new country seems to follow a pattern. First come the openers, strong and brave and rather childlike. They can take care of themselves in a wilderness, but they are naïve and helpless against men, and perhaps that is why they went out in the first place. When the rough edges are worn off

the new land, businessmen and lawyers come in to help with the development—to solve problems of ownership, usually by removing the temptations to themselves.

And finally comes culture, which

is entertainment,

relaxation, transport out of the pain of living. And culture can be on any level, and is.

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each

would have been

horrified to think it was a

different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels. The sectarian churches came in swinging, cocky and loud and confident. Ignoring the laws of debt and repayment, they built churches which couldn’t be paid for in a hundred years. The sects fought evil, true enough, but they also fought each other with a fine lustiness. They fought at the turn of a doctrine. Each happily believed all the others were bound for hell in a basket. And each for all its

bumptiousness brought with it

the same thing:


Scripture on which our ethics, our art and poetry, and our relationships are built. It took a smart man to know where the difference lay between the sects, but anyone could see what they had in common.

And they brought music— maybe not the best, but the form and sense of it. And they brought conscience, or, rather, nudged the dozing conscience. They were not pure, but they had a potential of purity, like a soiled white shirt. And any man could

make something pretty fine of it

within himself.


enough, the Reverend Billing, when they caught up with him, turned out to be a thief, an adulterer, a libertine, and a zoophilist, but that didn’t change the fact that he had communicated some good things to a great number of receptive people. Billing went to jail, but no one ever arrested the good things he had released. And it doesn’t matter much that his motive was impure. He used good material and some of it stuck. I use Billing only as an outrageous



honest preachers had energy and go. They fought the devil, no holds barred, boots and eye-gouging permitted. You might get the idea that they howled truth and beauty the way a seal bites out the National Anthem on a row of circus horns. But some of the truth and beauty remained, and

the anthem was

recognizable. The sects did more than this, though. They built the structure of social life in the Salinas Valley. The church


is the

grandfather of the country club, just as the Thursday poetry

reading in


basement under the vestry sired the little theater.

While the churches,

bringing the sweet smell of piety for the soul, came in prancing and farting like brewery horses in bock-beer time, the sister evangelism, with release and joy for the body, crept in silently and gravely, with its head bowed and its face covered.

You may have seen the spangled palaces of sin and fancy dancing in the false West of the movies, and maybe some of them existed

—but not in the Salinas Valley. The brothels were quiet,

orderly, and

circumspect. Indeed, if after hearing the ecstatic shrieks of climactic conversion against the thumping beat of the melodeon you had stood under the window of a whorehouse and listened to the low decorous voices, you would have been likely to confuse the identities of the two ministries. The brothel was accepted while it was not


I will tell you about the solemn courts of love in Salinas. They were about the same in other towns, but the Salinas Row has a pertinence to this telling.

You walked west on Main Street until it bent.

That’s where Castroville Street crossed Main.

Castroville Street is now called Market Street, God knows why. Streets used to be named for the place they aimed at. Thus Castroville Street, if you followed it nine miles,

brought you


Castroville, Alisal Street to Alisal, and so forth.

Anyway, when you

came to Castroville Street you turned right. Two blocks down, the Southern Pacific tracks cut diagonally across the street on their way south, and

a street


Castroville Street from east to west. And for the life of me I cannot remember the name of that street. If you turned left on that street and crossed the

tracks you were in

Chinatown. If you turned right you were on the Row.

It was a black ‘dobe

street, deep shining mud in winter and hard as rutted iron in summer. In the spring the tall grass grew along its sides

—wild oats and mallow weeds and yellow mustard mixed in. In the early morning

the sparrows shrieked over

the horse

manure in the street.

Do you


hearing that, old men? And do you remember how an easterly breeze brought odors in from Chinatown, roasting pork and punk and black tobacco and yen shi? And do you remember the deep Waiting stroke of the great gong in the Joss House, and how its tone hung in the air so long?

Remember, too, the little houses,


unrepaired? They seemed very small, and they tried to efface themselves in outside neglect,


the wild

overgrown front yards tried to hide them from the street.

Remember how the shades were always drawn with little lines of yellow light around their edges? You could hear only a murmur from within. Then the front door would open to admit a country boy, and you’d hear laughter and perhaps the soft sentimental tone of an open-face piano with a piece of toilet chain across the strings, and then the door would close it off again.

Then you might hear horses’ hoofs on the dirt street, and Pet Bulene would

drive his hack up in front, and

maybe four or five portly men would get out—great men, rich or official, bankers maybe, or the courthouse gang. And Pet would drive around the corner and settle down in his hack to wait for them. Big cats would ripple across the street to disappear in the tall grass.

And then—remember?

—the train whistle and the boring light and a freight from King City would go stomping across Castroville Street and into Salinas and you could hear it sighing at the station. Remember?

Every town has its celebrated madams, eternal women to be sentimentalized down the years. There is

something very attractive to men about a madam. She combines the brains of a businessman, the toughness of a prize fighter, the warmth of a companion, the humor of a tragedian. Myths collect around

her, and, oddly enough, not

voluptuous myths.

The stories

remembered and repeated about a madam cover every field

but the

bedroom. Remembering, her


customers picture her as a philanthropist,

medical authority, bouncer, and poetess of

the bodily emotions without being

involved with them. For a number of years

Salinas had sheltered two of these


Jenny, sometimes called Fartin’

Jenny, and the Nigger, who owned and operated the Long Green. Jenny was a good companion, a keeper of secrets, a giver of secret loans. There is a whole literature of stories about Jenny in Salinas.

The Nigger was


handsome, austere woman with snow-white hair and a dark and awful dignity. Her brown eyes, brooding deep in her skull, looked out on an ugly world with philosophic

sorrow. She conducted her house

like a


dedicated to a sad but erect Priapus. If you wanted a good laugh and a poke in the ribs, you went to Jenny’s and got your money’s worth; but if the sweet world-sadness close to tears crept out of your immutable

loneliness, the

Long Green was your place. When you came out of there you felt that something pretty stern and important had happened. It was no jump in the hay. The dark beautiful eyes of the Nigger stayed

with you for days.

When Faye came down

from Sacramento and opened her house there was a flurry of animosity from the two incumbents.

They got

together to drive Faye out, but they discovered she was not in competition.

Faye was the motherly type,


big-hipped, and warm. She was a bosom to cry on, a soother

and a stroker. The iron sex of the Nigger and the tavern bacchanalianism of Jenny had their devotees, and they were not lost to Faye. Her house became the refuge of young

men puling in puberty,

mourning over lost virtue, and aching to lose some more. Faye was the reassurer of misbegotten husbands. Her house took up the slack for frigid wives. It was the cinnamon-scented kitchen of one’s grandmother. If any sexual thing happened to you at Faye’s you felt it was an accident but forgivable. Her house led the youths of Salinas into the thorny path of sex in the pinkest, smoothest way. Faye was a nice woman, not very bright, highly moral, and easily shocked. People trusted her and she trusted

everyone. No one could want to hurt Faye once he knew her. She was no competition to the others. She was a third phase.

Just as in a store or on a ranch the employees are images of the boss, so in a whorehouse the girls are very like

the madam, partly

because she hires that kind and partly because a good madam

imprints her

personality on the business. You could stay a very long time at Faye’s before you would hear an ugly or

suggestive word spoken. The wanderings to the bedrooms, the payments, were so soft and casual they seemed incidental. All in all, she ran a hell of a fine house, as the constable and the sheriff knew.

Faye contributed

heavily to every charity.

Having a revulsion against disease, she paid for regular inspection of her girls. You had less chance of contracting a difficulty at Faye’s than with your Sunday School teacher. Faye soon became a solid and desirable citizen of the growing town of Salinas. 2

The girl Kate puzzled Faye— she was so young and pretty, so

lady-like, so


educated. Faye took her into her own inviolate bedroom and questioned her far more than she would if Kate had been another kind of girl.

There were always women knocking on the door of a whorehouse,

and Faye

recognized most of them instantly. She could tick them off—lazy, vengeful, lustful, unsatisfied,


ambitious. Kate didn’t fall into any of these classes. “I hope you don’t mind my asking you all these

questions,” she said. “It just seems so strange that you should come here. Why, you could get a husband and a surrey and a corner house in town with no trouble at all, no trouble at all.” And Faye rolled her wedding band

around and around on her fat little finger.

Kate smiled shyly. “It’s

so hard to explain. I hope you won’t insist on knowing. The happiness of someone very near and dear to me is involved. Please don’t ask me.”

Faye nodded solemnly.

“I’ve known things like that. I had one girl who was supporting her baby, and no one knew for a long, long time. That girl has a fine house and a husband in— there, I nearly told you where. I’d cut out my tongue before I’d tell. Do you have a baby, dear?”

Kate looked down to try

to conceal the shine of tears

in her eyes. When she could control

her throat she

whispered, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about it.”

“That’s all right. That’s

all right. You just take your time.”

Faye was not bright, but

she was far from stupid. She went to the sheriff and got herself cleared. There was no sense in taking chances. She knew something was wrong about Kate, but if it didn’t harm the house it really wasn’t Faye’s business.

Kate might have been a chiseler, but she wasn’t. She went to work right away. And

when customers come back again and again and ask for a girl by name, you know you’ve got something. A pretty face won’t do that. It was quite apparent to Faye that Kate was not learning a new trade.

There are two things it is good to know about a new girl: first, will she work? and second, will she get along with the other girls? There’s nothing will upset a house like an ill-tempered girl.

Faye didn’t have long to wonder about the second question. Kate put herself out to be pleasant. She helped the other girls keep their rooms clean. She served them when they were sick, listened to

their troubles, answered them in matters of love, and as soon as she had some, loaned them money. You couldn’t want a better girl. She became

best friend to

everyone in the house. There was no trouble Kate would not take, no

drudgery she was afraid of, and, in addition, she brought business. She soon had her own

group of regular


Kate was

thoughtful too.


remembered birthdays and always had a present and a cake with candles. Faye realized she had a treasure.

People who don’t know

think it is easy to be a madam

—just sit in a big chair and drink beer and take half the money the girls make, they think. But it’s not like that at all. You have to feed the girls

—that’s groceries and a cook. Your laundry problem is quite a bit more complicated than that of a hotel. You have to keep the girls well and as happy as possible, and some of them can get pretty ornery. You have to keep suicide at

an absolute minimum, and whores, particularly the ones getting along in years, are flighty with a razor; and that gets your house a bad name.

It isn’t so easy, and if

you have waste too you can lose money. When Kate offered to help with the marketing and planning of meals Faye was pleased, although she didn’t know when the girl found time.

Well, not only did the food improve, but the grocery bills came down one-third the first month Kate took over. And the

laundry—Faye didn’t

know what Kate said to the man but that bill suddenly

dropped twenty-five per cent. Faye didn’t see how she ever got along without Kate.

In the late afternoon before business they sat

together in Faye’s room and drank tea. It was much nicer since Kate had painted the woodwork and put up lace curtains. The girls began to realize that there were two bosses, not one, and they were glad because Kate was very easy to get along with. She made them turn more tricks but she wasn’t mean about it. They’d as likely as not have a big laugh over it. By the time a year had passed Faye and Kate were like mother and daughter.

And the girls said, “You

watch—she’ll own this house some day.”

Kate’s hands were

always busy, mostly at drawn worn on the sheerest of lawn handkerchiefs.

She could make beautiful initials.

Nearly all the girls carried and

treasured her


Gradually a perfectly

natural thing happened. Faye, the essence of motherness, began to think of Kate as her

daughter. She felt this in her breast and in her emotions, and her natural morality took hold. She did not want her daughter to be a whore. It was a

perfectly reasonable sequence.

Faye thought hard how

she was going to bring up the subject. It was a problem. It was

Faye’s nature to

approach any subject

sideways. She could not say, “I want you to give up whoring.”

She said, “If it is a

secret, don’t answer, but I’ve always meant to ask you.

What did the sheriff say to you—good Lord, is it a year ago? How the time goes!

Quicker as you get older, I think. He was nearly an hour with you. He didn’t—but of course not. He’s a family man. He goes to Jenny’s. But I don’t want to pry into your affairs.”

“There’s no secret at all about that,” said Kate. “I would have told you. He told me I should go home. He was very nice about it. When I explained that I couldn’t, he was

very nice

and understanding.”

“Did you tell him why?” Faye asked jealously. “Of course not. Do you

think I would tell him when I won’t tell you? Don’t be silly, darling. You’re such a funny little girl.”

Faye smiled and

snuggled contentedly down in her chair.

Kate’s face was in repose,

but she was

remembering every word of that interview. As a matter of fact, she rather liked the

sheriff. He was direct.


He had closed the door of her room, glanced around with the quick recording eye of a good

policeman—no photographs, none of the personal

articles which

identify, nothing but clothes and shoes.

He sat down on her little cane rocking chair and his buttocks hung over on each side. His fingers got together in conference, talking to one another like ants. He spoke in an unemotional tone, almost as though he weren’t much interested in what he was

saying. Maybe that was what impressed her.

At first she put on her slightly stupid demure look, but after a few of his words she gave that up and bored into him with her eyes, trying to read his thoughts. He neither looked in her eyes nor avoided them. But she was aware that he was inspecting her as she inspected him. She felt his glance go over the scar on her forehead almost as though he had touched it. “I don’t want to make a record,” he said quietly. “I’ve

held office a long time. About one more term will be enough. You know, young woman, if this were fifteen years back I’d do some

checking, and I guess I’d find something pretty nasty.” He waited for some reaction from her but she did not protest. He nodded his head slowly. “I don’t want to know,” he said. “I want peace in this county, and I mean all kinds of peace, and that means people getting to sleep at night. Now I haven’t met your husband,” he said, and she knew he noticed the slight movement of her tightening muscles. “I hear he’s a very nice man. I hear also that he’s pretty hard hit.” He looked into her eyes for a moment. “Don’t you want to know how bad you shot him?” “Yes,” she said.

“Well, he’s going to get

well—smashed his shoulder, but he’s going to get well.

That Chink is taking pretty good care of him. Course I don’t think he’ll lift anything with his left arm for quite a spell. A forty-four tears hell out of a man. If the Chink hadn’t come back he’d of bled to death, and you’d be staying with me in the jail.”

Kate was holding her breath, listening for any hint of what was coming and not hearing any hints.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

The sheriff’s eyes

became alert. “Now that’s the first time you’ve made a

mistake,” he said. “You’re not sorry. I knew somebody like you once—hung him twelve years ago in front of the county jail. We used to do that here.”

The little room with its dark

mahogany bed,


marble-top wash stand with bowl and pitcher and a door for the pot, its wallpaper endlessly repeating little roses

—little roses—the little room was silent, the sound sucked out of it.

The sheriff was staring

at a picture of three cherubim

—just heads, curly-haired, limpid-eyed,

with wings

about the size of pigeons’ wings growing out of where their necks would be. He frowned. “That’s a funny picture for a whorehouse,” he said.

“It was here,” said Kate. Apparently the preliminaries were over now.

The sheriff straightened up, undid his fingers, and held the arms of his chair.

Even his buttocks pulled in a little. “You left a couple of babies,” he said. “Little boys. Now you calm down. I’m not going to try to get you to go back. I guess I’d do quite a bit to keep you from going back. I think I know you. I

could just run you over the county line and have the next sheriff run you, and that could keep up till you landed splash in the Atlantic Ocean. But I don’t want to do that. I don’t care how you live as long as you don’t give me any trouble. A whore is a whore.”

Kate asked evenly,

“What is it you do want?” “That’s more like it,” the sheriff said. “Here’s what I want. I notice you changed your name. I want you to keep your new name. I guess you made up someplace you came



where you came from. And your reason—that’s when you’re maybe drunk—you keep your reason about two thousand miles away from King City.”

She was smiling a little, and not a forced smile. She was beginning to trust this man and to like him.

“One thing I thought of,”

he said. “Did you know many people around King City?” “No.”


heard about the

knitting needle,” he said casually. “Well, it could happen that somebody you

knew might come in here. That your real hair color?” “Yes.”

“Dye it black for a

while. Lots of people look like somebody else.” “How about this?” She touched her scar with a slender finger.

“Well, that’s just a—

what is that word? What is that goddam word? I had it this morning.” “Coincidence?”

“That’s it—

coincidence.” He seemed to be finished. He got out tobacco and papers and rolled a clumsy, lumpy cigarette. He broke out a sulphur match and struck it on the block and

held it away until its acrid blue flame turned yellow. His cigarette burned crookedly up the side.

Kate said, “Isn’t there a threat? I mean, what you’ll do if I—”

“No, there isn’t. I guess I could think up something pretty ornery, though, if it came to that. No, I don’t want you—what you are, what you do, or what you say—to hurt Mr. Trask or his boys. You figure you died and now you’re somebody else and we’ll get along fine.”

He stood up and went to the door, then turned. “I’ve got a boy—he’ll be twenty this year; big, nice-looking fellow with a broken nose.

Everybody likes him. I don’t want him in here. I’ll tell Faye too. Let him go to Jenny’s. If he comes in, you tell him to go to Jenny’s.” He closed the door behind him. Kate smiled down at her fingers.


Faye twisted around in her chair to reach a piece of brown panocha studded with walnuts. When she spoke it was around a mouth full of candy.

Kate wondered

uneasily whether she could read minds, for Faye said, “I still don’t like it as well. I said it then and I say it again. I liked your hair blond better.

I don’t know what got into you to change it. You’ve got a fair complexion.”

Kate caught a single

thread of hair with fingernails of thumb and forefinger and gently drew it out. She was very clever. She told the best lie of all—the truth. “I didn’t want to tell you,” she said. “I was afraid I might be recognized and that would hurt someone.”

Faye got up out of her chair and went to Kate and kissed her. “What a good

child it is,” she said. “What a thoughtful dear.”

Kate said, “Let’s have

some tea. I’ll bring it in.” She went out of the room, and in the hall on the way to the

kitchen she rubbed the kiss from her cheek with her fingertips.

Back in her chair, Faye picked out a piece of panocha with a whole walnut showing through. She put it in her mouth and bit into a piece of walnut shell. The sharp, pointed fragment hit a hollow tooth and whanged into the nerve. Blue lights of pain flashed through her. Her forehead became wet. When Kate came back with teapot and cups on a tray Faye was clawing at her mouth with a crooked

finger and

whimpering in agony. “What is it?” Kate cried.

“Tooth—nutshell.” “Here, let me see. Open

and point.” Kate looked into the open mouth, then went to the nut bowl on the fringed table for a nut pick. In a fraction of a second she had dug out the shell and held it in the palm of her hand. “There it is.”

The nerve stopped shrieking and

the pain

dropped to an ache. “Only that big? It felt like a house. Look, dear,” said Faye, “open that second drawer where my medicine

is. Bring the

paregoric and a piece of cotton. Will you help me pack this tooth?”

Kate brought the bottle and pushed a little ball of

saturated cotton into the tooth with the point of the nut pick. “You ought to have it out.”

“I know. I will.” “I have three teeth

missing on this side.” “Well,

you’d never

know it. That made me feel all shaky. Bring me the Pinkham, will you?” She poured herself a slug of the vegetable

compound and

sighed with relief. “That’s a wonderful medicine,” she said.

“The woman who

invented it was a saint.”

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