Chapter no 20

East of Eden

It was a pleasant afternoon. Frémont’s Peak was lighted pinkly by the setting sun, and Faye could see it from her window.

From over on

Castroville Street came the sweet sound of jingling horse bells from an eight-horse

grain team down from the ridge. The cook was fighting pots in the kitchen. There was a rubbing sound on the wall and then a gentle tap on the door.

“Come in, Cotton Eye,” Faye called.

The door opened and the crooked little cotton-eyed piano player stood in the entrance, waiting for a sound to tell him where she was. “What is it you want?”

Faye asked.

He turned to her. “I

don’t feel good, Miss Faye. I want to crawl into my bed and not do no playing tonight.”

“You were sick two

nights last week, Cotton Eye.

Don’t you like your job?” “I don’t feel good.” “Well, all right. But I

wish you’d take better care of yourself.”

Kate said softly, “Let the gong alone for a couple of weeks, Cotton Eye.”

“Oh, Miss Kate. I didn’t know you was here. I ain’t been smoking.”

“You’ve been smoking,” Kate said.

“Yes, Miss Kate, I sure will let it alone. I don’t feel good.” He closed the door,

and they could hear his hand rubbing along the wall to guide him.

Faye said, “He told me he’d stopped.”

“He hasn’t stopped.”

“The poor thing,” said

Faye, “he doesn’t have much to live for.”

Kate stood in front of

her. “You’re so sweet,” she said.

“You believe in

everybody. Someday if you don’t watch, or I don’t watch for you, someone will steal the roof.”

“Who’d want to steal from me?” asked Faye. Kate put her hand on

Faye’s plump shoulders. “Not everyone is as nice as you are.”

Faye’s eyes glistened

with tears. She picked up a handkerchief from the chair

beside her and wiped her eyes and patted delicately at her nostrils. “You’re like my own daughter, Kate,” she said. “I’m

beginning to

believe I am. I never knew my mother. She died when I was small.”

Faye drew a deep breath

and plunged into the subject. “Kate, I don’t like you working here.”

“Why not?”

Faye shook her head,

trying to find words. “I’m not ashamed. I run a nice house. If I didn’t somebody else might run a bad house. I don’t do anybody any harm. I’m not ashamed.”

“Why should you be?” asked Kate.

“But I don’t like you working. I just don’t like it. You’re sort of my daughter. I don’t

like my

daughter working.” “Don’t

be a


darling,” said Kate. “I have to

—here or somewhere else. I told you. I have to have the money.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Of course I do. Where else could I get it?” “You could be my

daughter. You could manage the house. You could take care of things for me and not go upstairs. I’m not always well, you know.”

“I know you’re not, poor darling. But I have to have money.”

“There’s plenty for both

of us, Kate. I could give you as much as you make and more, and you’d be worth it.”

Kate shook her head sadly. “I do love you,” she

said. “And I wish I could do what you want. But you need your little reserve, and I— well,

suppose something

should happen to you? No, I must go on working. Do you

know, dear, I have five regulars tonight?”

A jar of shock struck Faye. “I don’t want you to work.”

“I have to, Mother.”

The word did it. Faye

burst into tears, and Kate sat on the arm of her chair and stroked her cheek and wiped her streaming eyes. The outburst sniffled to a close. The dusk was settling deeply on the valley. Kate’s face was a glow of lightness under her dark hair. “Now you’re all right. I’ll go and look in on the kitchen and then dress.”

“Kate, can’t you tell

your regulars you’re sick?” “Of course not, Mother.”

“Kate, it’s Wednesday. Probably won’t be anybody in after one o’clock.”

“The Woodmen of the World are having a do.” “Oh,

yes. But on

Wednesday—the Woodmen won’t be here after two.” “What are you getting


“Kate, when you close,

you tap on my door. I’ll have a little surprise for you.” “What

kind of

a surprise?”

“Oh, a secret surprise!

Will you ask the cook to come in as you go by the kitchen?”

“Sounds like a cake surprise.”

“Now don’t ask

questions, darling. It’s a surprise.”

Kate kissed her. “What a dear you are, Mother.” When she had closed the door behind her Kate stood for a moment in the hall. Her fingers caressed her little pointed chin. Her eyes were calm. Then she stretched her arms over her head and strained her body in a luxurious yawn. She ran her hands slowly down her sides

from right under her breasts to her hips. Her mouth corners turned up a little, and she

moved toward the kitchen. 2

The few regulars drifted in and out and two drummers walked down the Line to look them over, but not a single Woodman of the World showed up. The girls sat yawning in the parlor until two o’clock, waiting.

What kept the Woodmen away was a sad accident. Clarence Monteith had a heart attack right in the middle of the closing ritual

and before supper. They laid him out on the carpet and dampened his forehead until the doctor came. Nobody felt like sitting down to the doughnut supper. After Dr.

Wilde had arrived and looked Clarence over, the Woodmen made a stretcher by putting flagpoles through the sleeves of two overcoats. On the way home Clarence died, and they had to go for Dr. Wilde again. And by the time they had made plans for the funeral and written the piece for the Salinas Journal, nobody had any heart for a whorehouse.

The next day, when they found out what had happened, the girls all remembered what Ethel had said at ten minutes

to two.

“My God!” Ethel had said. “I never heard it so quiet. No music, cat’s got

Kate’s tongue. It’s like setting up with a corpse.”

Later Ethel was

impressed with having said it

—almost as if she knew.

Grace had said, “I

wonder what cat’s got Kate’s tongue. Don’t you feel good? Kate—I said, don’t you feel good?”

Kate started. “Oh! I guess I was thinking of something.”

“Well, I’m not,” said Grace. “I’m sleepy. Why

don’t we close up? Let’s ask Faye if we can’t lock up.

There won’t even be a Chink in tonight. I’m going to ask Faye.”

Kate’s voice cut in on

her. “Let Faye alone. She’s not well. We’ll close up at two.”

“That clock’s way

wrong,” said Ethel. “What’s the matter with Faye?” Kate said, “Maybe that’s what I was thinking about.

Faye’s not well. I’m worried to death about her. She won’t show it if she can help it.”

“I thought she was all

right,” Grace said.

Ethel hit the jackpot

again. “Well, she don’t look good to me. She’s got a kind of flush. I noticed it.”

Kate spoke very softly. “Don’t you girls ever let her know


told you.


wouldn’t want you to worry. What a dear she is!”

“Best goddam house I ever hustled,” said Grace. Alice said, “You better not let her hear you talk words like that.”

“Balls!” said Grace.

“She knows all the words.” “She don’t like to hear them—not from us.”

Kate said patiently, “I want

to tell you what

happened. I was having tea with her late this afternoon and she fainted dead away. I do wish she’d see a doctor.” “I noticed she had a kind

of bright flush,”


repeated. “That clock’s way wrong but I forget which way.”

Kate said, “You girls go

on to bed. I’ll lock up.” When they were gone Kate went to her room and put on her pretty new print

dress that made her look like a little girl. She brushed and braided her hair and let it hang behind in one thick pigtail tied with a little white bow. She patted her cheeks with Florida water. For a moment she hesitated, and then from the top bureau drawer she took a little gold

watch that hung from a fleur-de-lis pin. She wrapped it in one

of her fine lawn

handkerchiefs and went out of the room.

The hall was very dark, but a rim of light showed under Faye’s door. Kate tapped softly.

Faye called, “Who is it?” “It’s Kate.”

“Don’t you come in yet.

You wait outside. I’ll tell you when.” Kate heard a rustling and a scratching in the room. Then Faye called, “All right. Come in.”

The room was

decorated. Japanese lanterns with candles in them hung on bamboo sticks at the corners, and red crepe paper twisted in scallops from the center to the corners to give the effect of a tent. On the table, with

candlesticks around it, was a big white cake and a box of chocolates, and beside these a basket with a magnum of champagne peeking out of crushed ice. Faye wore her best lace dress and her eyes were shiny with emotion. “What in the world?”

Kate cried. She closed the door. “Why, it looks like a party!”

“It is a party. It’s a party for my dear daughter.” “It’s not my birthday.”

Faye said, “In a way maybe it is.”

“I don’t know what you mean. But I brought you a present.” She laid the folded handkerchief in Faye’s lap. “Open it carefully,” she said.

Faye held the watch up. “Oh, my dear, my dear! You crazy child! No, I can’t take it.” She opened the face and then picked open the back with her fingernail. It was engraved.—”To C. with all my heart from A.”

“It was my mother’s watch,” Kate said softly. “I

would like my new mother to have it.”

“My darling child! My darling child!”

“Mother would be glad.” “But it’s my party. I

have a present for my dear daughter—but I’ll have to do it in my own way. Now, Kate, you open the bottle of wine and pour two glasses while I cut the cake. I want it to be


When everything was ready Faye took her seat behind the table. She raised her glass. “To my new daughter—may

you have

long life and happiness.” And when they had drunk Kate proposed, “To my mother.” Faye said, “You’ll make me cry—don’t make me cry.

Over on the bureau, dear. Bring the little mahogany box. There that’s the one. Now put it on the table here and open it.”

In the polished box lay a rolled white paper tied with a red ribbon. “What in the world is it?” Kate asked. “It’s

my gift to you. Open it.”

Kate very carefully

untied the red ribbon and unrolled the tube. It was written elegantly with shaded letters, and it was well and carefully

drawn and

witnessed by the cook. “All my worldly goods without exception to Kate

Albey because I regard her as my daughter.”

It was simple, direct, and legally irreproachable. Kate read it three times, looked back at the date, studied the cook’s



watched her, and her lips were parted in expectation. When Kate’s lips moved, reading, Faye’s lips moved.

Kate rolled the paper

and tied the ribbon around it and put it in the box and closed the lid. She sat in her chair.

Faye said at last, “Are you pleased?”

Kate’s eyes seemed to

peer into and beyond Faye’s eyes—to penetrate the brain behind the eyes. Kate said quietly, “I’m trying to hold on, Mother. I didn’t know anyone could be so good. I’m afraid if I say anything too quickly or come too close to you, I’ll break to pieces.”

It was more dramatic

than Faye had anticipated, quiet and electric. Faye said, “It’s a funny present, isn’t it?”

“Funny? No, it isn’t funny.”

“I mean, a will is a

strange present. But it means more than that. Now you are my real daughter I can tell you. I—no, we—have cash and securities in excess of sixty thousand dollars. In my desk are notations of accounts and safe-deposit boxes. I sold the place in Sacramento for a very good price. Why are you so silent, child? Is something bothering you?”

“A will sounds like

death. That’s thrown a pall.”

“But everyone should make a will.”

“I know, Mother.” Kate smiled ruefully. “A thought crossed my mind. I thought of all your kin coming in angrily to break such a will as this.

You can’t do this.” “My poor little girl, is

that what’s bothering you? I have no folks. As far as I know I have no kin. And if I did have some—who would know? Do you think you are the only one with secrets? Do you think I use the name I was born with?”

Kate looked long and levelly at Faye.

“Kate,” she cried, “Kate, it’s a party. Don’t be sad! Don’t be frozen!”

Kate got up, gently

pulled the table aside, and sat down on the floor. She put her cheek on Faye’s knee.

Her slender fingers traced a gold thread on the skirt through its intricate leaf pattern. And Faye stroked Kate’s cheek and hair and touched her strange ears.

Shyly Faye’s fingers explored to the borders of the scar.

“I think I’ve never been

so happy before,” said Kate. “My darling. You make

me happy too. Happier than I have ever been. Now I don’t feel alone. Now I feel safe.”

Kate picked delicately at the gold thread with her fingernails.

They sat in the warmth

for a long time before Faye stirred. “Kate,” she said, “we’re forgetting. It’s a party. We’ve forgotten the wine.

Pour it, child. We’ll have a little celebration.”

Kate said uneasily, “Do we need it, Mother?” “It’s good. Why not? I

like to take on a little load. It lets the poison out. Don’t you like champagne, Kate?” “Well, I never have

drunk much, it’s not good for me.”


Pour it,


Kate got up from the

floor and filled the glasses. Faye said, “Now drink it

down. I’m watching you. You’re not going to let an old woman get silly by herself.” “You’re not an old

woman, Mother.” “Don’t talk—drink it. I

won’t touch mine until yours is empty.” She held her glass until Kate had emptied hers, then gulped it. “Good, that’s good,” she said. “Fill them up. Now, come on dear— down the rat hole. After two or three the bad things go away.”

Kate’s chemistry

screamed against the wine. She remembered, and she was afraid.

Faye said, “Now let me

see the bottom, child—there.

You see how good it is? Fill up again.”

The transition came to Kate

almost immediately

after the second glass. Her fear evaporated, her fear of anything disappeared. This was what she had been afraid of, and now it was too late.

The wine had forced a passage

through all


carefully built barriers and defenses and deceptions, and she didn’t care. The thing she had learned to cover and control was lost. Her voice became chill and her mouth

was thin. Her wide-set eyes slitted and grew watchful and sardonic.

“Now you drink—

Mother—while I watch,” she said. “There’s a—dear. I’ll bet you can’t drink two without stopping.”

“Don’t bet me, Kate. You’d lose. I can drink six without stopping.”

“Let me see you.” “If I do, will you?” “Of course.”

The contest started, and

a puddle of wine spread out over the tabletop and the wine went down in the magnum.

Faye giggled. “When I

was a girl—I could tell you

stories maybe you wouldn’t believe.”

Kate said, “I could tell stories

nobody would believe.”

“You? Don’t be silly. You’re a child.”

Kate laughed. “You

never saw such a child. This is a child—yes—a child!” She laughed with a thin penetrating shriek.

The sound got through

the wine that was muffling Faye. She centered her eyes on Kate. “You look so strange,” she said. “I guess it’s the lamplight. You look


“I am different.” “Call

me ‘Mother,’ dear.”

“Mother— dear.” “Kate, we’re going to have such a good life.” “You bet we are. You

don’t even know. You don’t know.”

“I’ve always wanted to

go to Europe. We could get on a ship and have nice clothes—dresses from Paris.” “Maybe we’ll do that—

but not now.”

“Why not, Kate? I have plenty of money.” “We’ll


plenty more.”

Faye spoke pleadingly, “Why don’t we go now? We

could sell the house. With the business we’ve got, we could get maybe ten thousand dollars for it.”


“What do you mean, no? It’s my house. I can sell it.” “Did you forget I’m

your daughter?”

“I don’t like your tone, Kate. What’s the matter with you? Is there any more wine?”

“Sure, there’s a little.

Look at it through the bottle. Here, drink it out of the bottle. That’s right—Mother

—spill it down your neck.

Get it in under your corset, Mother, against your fat stomach.”

Faye wailed, “Kate,

don’t be mean! We were feeling so nice. What do you want to go and spoil it for?” Kate wrenched the bottle from her hand. “Here, give me that.” She tipped it up and drained it and dropped it on the floor. Her face was sharp and her eyes glinted. The lips of her little mouth were parted to show her small sharp teeth, and the canines were longer and more pointed than the others. She laughed softly. “Mother—dear Mother

—I’m going to show you how

to run a whorehouse. We’ll fix the gray slugs that come in here and dump their nasty little loads—for a dollar.

We’ll give them pleasure, Mother dear.”

Faye said sharply. “Kate, you’re drunk. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “You



dear? Do you want me to tell you?”

“I want you to be sweet. I want you to be like you were.”

“Well, it’s too late. I

didn’t want to drink the wine. But you, you nasty fat worm, you made me. I’m your dear, sweet daughter—don’t you

remember? Well, I remember how surprised you were that I had regulars. Do you think I’ll give them up? Do you think they give me a mean little dollar in quarters? No, they give me ten dollars, and the price is going up all the time. They can’t go to anybody else. Nobody else is any good for them.”

Faye wept like a child. “Kate,” she said, “don’t talk like that. You’re not like that. You’re not like that.”

“Dear Mother, sweet fat Mother, take down the pants of one of my regulars. Look at the heelmarks on the groin

—very pretty. And the little cuts that bleed for a long time. Oh, Mother dear, I’ve

got the sweetest set of razors all in a case—and so sharp, so sharp.”

Faye struggled to get out

of her chair. Kate pushed her back. “And do you know, Mother dear, that’s the way this whole house is going to be. The price will be twenty dollars, and we’ll make the bastards take a bath. We’ll catch the blood on white silk handkerchiefs—Mother dear

—blood from the little

knotted whips.”

In her chair Faye began

to scream hoarsely. Kate was on her instantly with a hard hand cupped over her mouth.

“Don’t make a noise. There’s a good darling. Get snot all over your daughter’s hand— but no noise.” Tentatively she took her hand away and wiped it on Faye’s skirt.

Faye whispered, “I want you out of the house. I want you out. I run a good house

without nastiness. I want you out.”

“I can’t go, Mother. I

can’t leave you alone, poor dear.” Her voice chilled. “Now I’m sick of you. Sick of you.” She took a wineglass from the table, went to the bureau, and poured paregoric until the glass was half full. “Here, Mother, drink it. It will be good for you.”

“I don’t want to.”

“There’s a good dear. Drink it.” She coaxed the fluid into Faye. “Now one more

swallow—just one


Faye mumbled thickly for a while and then she

relaxed in her chair and slept, snoring thickly.


Dread began to gather in the corners of Kate’s mind, and out of dread came panic. She remembered the other time and a nausea swept through her. She gripped her hands together, and the panic grew. She lighted a candle from the lamp and went unsteadily down the dark hall to the

kitchen. She poured dry mustard in a glass, stirred water into it until it was partly fluid, and drank it. She held on to the edge of the sink while the paste went burning down.

She retched and

strained again and again. At the end of it, her heart was pounding and she was weak

—but the wine was overcome and her mind was clear.

She went over the

evening in her mind, moving from scene to scene like a sniffing animal. She bathed

her face and washed out the sink and put the mustard back on the shelf. Then she went back to Faye’s room.

The dawn was coming, lighting up the back of Frémont’s Peak so that it stood black against the sky. Faye was still snoring in her chair. Kate watched her for a few moments and then she fixed

Faye’s bed.


dragged and strained and lifted the dead weight of the sleeping woman. On the bed Kate undressed Faye and washed her face and put her clothes away.

The day was coming

fast. Kate sat beside the bed and watched the relaxed face, the mouth open, lips blowing in and out.

Faye made a restless movement and her dry lips slobbered a few thick words and sighed off to a snore again.

Kate’s eyes become

alert. She opened the top bureau drawer and examined the bottles which constituted the medicine chest of the house—paregoric,


Killer, Lydia Pinkham, iron wine tonic, Hall’s Cream Salve, Epsom salts, castor oil, ammonia. She carried the

ammonia bottle to the bed, saturated a handkerchief, and, standing well away, held the cloth over Faye’s nose and mouth.

The strangling, shocking fumes went in, and Faye came snorting and fighting out of her black web. Her eyes were wide and terrified. Kate said, “It’s all right, Mother. It’s all right. You had a nightmare. You had a bad dream.”

“Yes, a dream,” and then sleep overcame her again and she fell back and began to snore, but the shock of the ammonia had lifted her up nearer consciousness and she was more restless. Kate put the bottle back in its drawer.

She straightened the table, mopped up the spilled wine, and carried the glasses to the kitchen.

The house was dusky

with dawnlight creeping in around the edges of the blinds. The cook stirred in his lean-to behind the kitchen, groping for his clothes and putting on his clodhopper shoes.

Kate moved quietly. She drank two glasses of water and filled the glass again and carried it back to Faye’s room and closed the door. She lifted Faye’s right eyelid, and the eye looked rakishly up at her but it was not rolled back in her head. Kate acted slowly and precisely. She

picked up the handkerchief and smelled it. Some of the ammonia had evaporated but the smell was still sharp. She laid the cloth lightly over Faye’s face, and when Faye twisted and turned and came near to waking, Kate took the handkerchief away and let Faye sink back. This she did three times. She put the handkerchief

away and

picked up an ivory crochet hook from the marble top of the bureau. She turned down the cover and pressed the blunt end of the ivory against Faye’s flabby breast with a steady, increasing pressure until the sleeping woman

whined and writhed. Then Kate explored the sensitive places of the body with the hook—under the arm, the groin, the ear, the clitoris, and always she removed the pressure just before Faye awakened fully.

Faye was very near the surface now. She whined and sniffled and tossed. Kate stroked her forehead and ran smooth fingers over her inner arm and spoke softly to her. “Dear—dear.


having a bad dream. Come out of the bad dream, Mother.”

Faye’s breathing grew more regular. She heaved a

great sigh and turned on her

side and settled down with little grunts of comfort.

Kate stood up from the

bed and a wave of dizziness rose in her head. She steadied herself, then went to the door and listened, slipped out, and moved cautiously to her own room. She undressed quickly and put on her nightgown and a robe and slippers. She brushed her hair and put it up and covered it with a sleeping cap, and she sponged her face with Florida water. She went quietly back to Faye’s room. Faye was still sleeping peacefully on her side. Kate opened the door to the hall.

She carried the glass of water to the bed and poured cold water in Faye’s ear.

Faye screamed, and screamed again.


frightened face looked out of her room in time to see Kate in robe and slippers at Faye’s door. The cook was right behind Kate, and he put out his hand to stop her.

“Now don’t go in there, Miss Kate. You don’t know what’s in there.” “Nonsense, Faye’s in trouble.” Kate burst in and ran to the bed.

Faye’s eyes were wild and she was crying and moaning.

“What is it? What is it,


The cook was in the

middle of the room, and three sleep-haggard girls stood in the doorway.

“Tell me, what is it?” Kate cried.



dreams, the dreams! I can’t stand them!”

Kate turned to the door. “She’s had a nightmare— she’ll be all night. You go back to bed. I’ll stay with her a while. Alex, bring a pot of tea.”

Kate was tireless. The other girls remarked on it.

She put cold towels on Faye’s aching head and held her shoulders and the cup of tea

for her. She petted and babied her, but the look of horror would not go out of Faye’s eyes. At ten o’clock Alex brought in a can of beer and without a word put it on the bureau top. Kate held a glass of it to Faye’s lips.

“It will help, darling.

Drink it down.”

“I never want another drink.”


Drink it

down like medicine. That’s a good girl. Now just lie back and go to sleep.”

“I’m afraid to sleep.” “Were the dreams so bad?”

“Horrible, horrible!”

“Tell me about them, Mother. Maybe that will help.”

Faye shrank back. “I wouldn’t tell anyone. How I could have dreamed them!

They weren’t like

my dreams.” “Poor little Mother!

Ilove you,” Kate said. “You go to sleep. I’ll keep the dreams away.”

Gradually Faye did slip

off to sleep. Kate sat beside the bed, studying her.

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