In human affairs of danger and
conclusion is sharply limited by hurry. So often men trip by being in a rush. If one were properly to perform a difficult and subtle act, he should first inspect the end to be achieved and then, once he had accepted the end as desirable, he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means. By this method he would not be moved to false action by anxiety or hurry or fear. Very few people learn this.
What made Kate so
effective was the fact that she had either learned it or had
been born with the
hurried. If a barrier arose, she waited
until it had
continuing. She was capable of
between the times for action. Also, she was mistress of a technique which is the basis of good wrestling—that of
letting your opponent do the heavy work toward his own defeat, or of guiding his strength
Kate was in no hurry.
She thought to the end very quickly and then put it out of her mind. She set herself to work on method. She built a structure and attacked it, and if it showed the slightest shakiness she tore it down and started fresh. This she did only late at night or otherwise when she was completely alone, so that no change or preoccupation was noticeable in her manner. Her building was
constructed of personalities, materials,
knowledge, and time. She had access to the first and last, and she set about getting knowledge and materials, but while she did that she set in motion
a series of
imperceptible springs and pendulums and left them to pick up their own momenta.
First the cook told about
the will. It must have been the cook. He thought he did anyway. Kate heard about it from
confronted him in the kitchen where he was kneading bread, his hairy big arms floured to the elbows and his hands yeast bleached.
“Do you think it was a
good thing to tell about being a witness?” she said mildly. “What do you think Miss Faye is going to think?”
He looked confused.
“But I didn’t—”
“You didn’t what—tell about it or think it would hurt?”
“I don’t think I—” “You don’t think you
told? Only three people knew.
Do you think I told? Or do you think Miss Faye did?” She saw the puzzled look come into his eyes and knew that by now he was far from sure that he had not told. In a moment he would be sure that he had.
questioned Kate about the will, coming to her together for mutual strength.
Kate said, “I don’t think
Faye would like me to discuss it. Alex should have kept his mouth shut.” Their wills wavered, and she said, “Why don’t you ask Faye?”
“Oh, we wouldn’t do
“But you dare to talk behind her back! Come on now, let’s go in to her and you
can ask her the
questions.” “No, Kate, no.”
“Well, I’ll have to tell
her you asked. Wouldn’t you rather be there? Don’t you think she would feel better if she knew you weren’t talking behind her back?”
“I know I would. I always like a person who
comes right out.” Quietly she surrounded and nudged and
pushed until they stood in Faye’s room.
Kate said, “They asked
me about a certain you-know-what. Alex admits he let it out.”
Faye was slightly
puzzled. “Well, dear, I can’t see that it’s such a secret.” Kate said, “Oh, I’m glad you feel that way. But you can see that I couldn’t mention it until you did.” “You think it’s bad to
“Oh, not at all. I’m glad, but it seemed to me that it wouldn’t be loyal of me to mention it before you did.” “You’re sweet, Kate. I
don’t see any harm. You see,
girls, I’m alone in the world and I have taken Kate as my daughter. She takes such care of me. Get the box, Kate.”
And each girl took the will in her own hands and
inspected it. It was so simple they could repeat it word for word to the other girls.
They watched Kate to
see how she would change, perhaps become a tyrant, but if anything, she was nicer to them.
A week later when Kate became ill, she went right on with her supervision of the house, and no one would have known if she hadn’t been found standing rigid in the hall with agony printed on her face. She begged the girls
not to tell Faye, but they were outraged, and it was Faye who forced her to bed and called Dr. Wilde.
He was a nice man and a pretty good doctor. He looked at her tongue, felt her pulse, asked her a few intimate questions, and then tapped his lower lip.
“Right here?” he asked
and exerted a little pressure on the small of her back. “No? Here? Does this hurt? So. Well, I think you just need a kidney flushing.” He left yellow, green, and red pills to be taken in sequence. The pills did good work.
She did have one little
flare up. She told Faye, “I’ll go to the doctor’s office.”
“I’ll ask him to come here.”
“To bring me some more pills? Nonsense. I’ll go in the morning.”
Dr. Wilde was a good man and an honest man. He was accustomed to say of his profession that all he was sure of was that sulphur would cure the itch. He was not casual about his practice.
Like so many
country doctors, he
combination doctor, priest,
psychiatrist to his town. He knew most of the secrets, weaknesses, and the braveries of Salinas. He never learned to take death easily. Indeed the death of a patient always gave him a sense of failure and hopeless ignorance. He was not a bold man, and he used surgery only as a last and
drugstore was coming in to help the doctors, but Dr.
Wilde was one of the few to maintain his own dispensary and to compound his own prescriptions. Many years of overwork
sleep had made him a little vague and preoccupied.
At eight-thirty on a Wednesday morning Kate walked
up Main Street,
climbed the stairs of the Monterey
Building, and walked along the corridor until she found the door which said, “Dr.
Wilde—Office Hours 11-2.”
At nine-thirty Dr. Wilde put his buggy in the livery
stable and wearily lifted out his black bag. He had been out in the Alisal presiding at
the disintegration of old, old lady German. She had not been able to terminate her life neatly. There were codicils.
Even now Dr.
wondered whether the tough, dry,
stringy life was
completely gone out of her. She was ninety-seven and a death
nothing to her. Why, she had corrected the priest who prepared her. The mystery of death was on him. It often
was. Yesterday, Allen Day, thirty-seven, six feet one inch, strong as a bull and valuable to four hundred acres and a large family, had meekly surrendered his life to pneumonia
after a little
exposure and three days of fever. Dr. Wilde knew it was a mystery. His eyelids felt grainy. He thought he would take a sponge bath and have a drink before his first office patients arrived with their stomach aches.
He climbed the stairs
and put his worn key in the lock of his office door. The key would not turn. He set his
bag on the floor and exerted pressure. The key refused to budge.
He grabbed the
doorknob and pulled outward and rattled the key. The door was opened from within. Kate stood in front of him.
Lock was stuck. How did you get in?”
“It wasn’t locked. I was early and came in to wait.” “Wasn’t locked?” He
turned the key the other way and saw that, sure enough, the little bar slipped out easily. “I’m
guess,” he said. “I’m
forgetful.” He sighed. “I don’t know why I lock it anyway. You could get in with a piece of baling wire. And who’d want to get in anyway?” He seemed to see her for the first time. “I don’t have
office hours until eleven.”
Kate said, “I needed
some more of those pills and I couldn’t come later.”
“Pills? Oh, yes. You’re the girl from down at Faye’s.”
“That’s right.” “Feeling better?” “Yes, the pills help.”
“Well, they can’t hurt,”
he said. “Did I leave the door to the dispensary open too?” “What’s a dispensary?” “Over there—that door.”
“I guess you must have.” “Getting old. How is Faye?”
“Well, I’m worried
about her. She was real sick a while ago. Had cramps and went a little out of her head.” “She’s had a stomach disorder before,” Dr. Wilde
said. “You can’t live like that and eat at all hours and be very well. I can’t anyway. We just call it stomach trouble.
Comes from eating too much and staying up all night. Now
—the pills. Do you remember what color?”
“There were three kinds, yellow, red, and green.” “Oh,
yes. Yes, I
While he poured pills
into a round cardboard box she stood in the door. “What
a lot of
Dr. Wilde said, “Yes—
and the older I get, the fewer I use. I got some of those when I started to practice.
Never used them. That’s a beginner’s stock. I was going to experiment—alchemy.” “What?”
“Nothing. Here you are.
Tell Faye to get some sleep and eat some vegetables. I’ve been up all night. Let yourself out, will you?” He went wavering
back into the
Kate glanced after him
and then her eyes flicked over the lines of bottles and
containers. She closed the dispensary door and looked around the outer office. One book in the case was out of line. She pushed it back until it was shoulder to shoulder with its brothers.
She picked up her big handbag from the leather sofa and left.
In her own room Kate
took five small bottles and a strip of scribbled paper from her handbag. She put the whole works in the toe of a stocking, pushed the wad into a rubber overshoe, and stood it with its fellow in the back of her closet.
During the following months a gradual change came over
Faye’s house. The girls were sloppy and touchy. If they had been told to clean themselves and their rooms a deep resentment would have set in and the house would have reeked of ill temper. But it didn’t work that way.
Kate said at table one evening that she had just happened to look in Ethel’s room and it was so neat and pretty she couldn’t help buying her a present. When Ethel unwrapped the package right at the table it was a big bottle of Hoyt’s German, enough to keep her smelling sweet for a long time. Ethel was pleased, and she hoped Kate hadn’t seen the dirty clothes under the bed. After
supper she not only got the clothes out but brushed the floors and swept the cobwebs out of the corners.
Then Grace looked so
pretty one afternoon that Kate couldn’t help giving her the rhinestone butterfly pin she was wearing. And Grace had to rush up and put on a clean shirtwaist to set it off.
Alex in the kitchen,
who, if he had believed what was usually said of him would
himself a murderer, found that he had a magic hand with biscuits. He discovered that cooking was something you couldn’t learn. You had to
Cotton Eye learned that
nobody hated him. His tub-thumping piano
changed imperceptibly. He told Kate, “It’s funny what you remember when you think back.”
“Like what?” she asked. “Well, like this,” and he played for her.
“That’s lovely,” she
said. “What is it?” “Well, I don’t know. I
think it’s Chopin. If I could just see the music!”
He told her how he had lost his sight, and he had
never told anyone else. It was
a bad story. That Saturday night he took the chain off the piano strings and played something
he had been
remembering and practicing in the morning, something called “Moonlight,” a piece by Beethoven, Cotton Eye thought.
Ethel said it sounded
like moonlight and did he know the words.
“It don’t have words,” said Cotton Eye.
Oscar Trip, up from Gonzales for Saturday night, said, “Well, it ought to have. It’s pretty.”
One night there were
presents for everyone because Faye’s was the best house, the cleanest, and nicest in the whole county—and who was responsible for that? Why, the girls—who else? And did they ever taste seasoning like in that stew?
Alex retired into the kitchen and shyly wiped his eyes with the back of his
wrist. He bet he could make a plum pudding would knock their eyes out.
Georgia was getting up at ten every morning and
taking piano lessons from Cotton Eye and her nails were clean.
Coming back from
eleven o’clock mass on a Sunday morning, Grace said to Trixie, “And I was about ready to get married and give up
“It’s sure nice,” said Trixie. “Jenny’s girls came
over for Faye’s birthday cake and they couldn’t believe their eyes. They don’t talk about nothing else but how it is at Faye’s. Jenny’s sore.” “Did you see the score
blackboard this morning?”
did—eighty-seven tricks in one week. Let Jenny or the Nigger match
that when there ain’t no holidays!”
“No holidays, hell. Have you forgot it’s Lent? They ain’t turning a trick at Jenny’s.”
After her illness and her evil dreams Faye was quiet
and depressed. Kate knew she was being watched, but there was no help for that. And she had made sure the rolled paper was still in the box and all the girls had seen it or heard about it.
One afternoon Faye
looked up from her solitaire game as Kate knocked and entered the room.
“How do you feel, Mother?”
“Fine, just fine.” Her eyes were secretive. Faye wasn’t very clever. “You
know, Kate, I’d like to go to Europe.”
“Well, how wonderful! And you deserve it and you can afford it.”
“I don’t want to go
alone. I want you to go with me.”
Kate looked at her in astonishment.
want to take me?” “Sure, why not?”
“Oh, you sweet dear! When can we go?” “You want to?”
“I’ve always dreamed of
it. When can we go? Let’s go soon.”
Faye’s eyes lost their suspicion
and her face
relaxed. “Maybe next
summer,” she said. “We can plan it for next summer.
“Yes, Mother.” “You—you don’t turn
any tricks any more, do you?” “Why should I? You
take such good care of me.”
Faye slowly gathered up the cards, and tapped them
square, and dropped them in the table drawer.
Kate pulled up a chair.
“I want to ask your advice about something.”
“What is it?”
“Well, you know I’m trying to help you.” “You’re
everything, darling.” “You know our biggest
expense is food, and it gets bigger in the winter.” “Yes.”
“Well, right now you
can buy fruit and all kinds of vegetables for two bits a lug. And in the winter you know what we pay for canned
peaches and canned string beans.”
“You aren’t planning to start preserving?” “Well, why shouldn’t we?”
“What will Alex say to that?”
believe it or not, or you can ask him. Alex suggested it.” “No!”
“Well, he did. Cross my heart.”
“Well, I’ll be damned— Oh, I’m sorry, sweet. It slipped out.”
The kitchen turned into a cannery and all the girls helped. Alex truly believed it
was his idea. At the end of the season he had a silver watch
with his name
engraved on the back to prove it.
Ordinarily both Faye and Kate had their supper at the long table in the dining room, but on Sunday nights when Alex was off and the girls dined on thick sandwiches, Kate served supper for two in Faye’s room. It was pleasant and a ladylike time. There was
always some little
delicacy, very special and
good—foie gras or a tossed salad, pastry bought at Lang’s Bakery just across Main Street. And instead of the white oilcloth and paper napkins of the dining room, Faye’s table was covered with a white damask cloth and the napkins were linen. It had a party feeling too, candles and—something rare in
flowers. Kate could make pretty floral arrangements using only the blossoms from weeds she picked in the fields.
“What a clever girl she
is,” Faye would say. “She can
do anything and she can make do with anything. We’re going to Europe. And did you know Kate speaks French?
Well, she can. When you get her alone ask her to say something in French. She’s teaching me. Know how you say bread in French?” Faye was having a wonderful time. Kate gave her excitement and perpetual planning.
On Saturday the fourteenth of October the first wild ducks went over Salinas. Faye saw them from her window, a great wedge flying south.
When Kate came in before supper, as she always did, Faye told her about it. “I guess the winter’s nearly
here,” she said. “We’ll have to get Alex to set up the stoves.”
“Ready for your tonic, Mother dear?”
“Yes, I am. You’re
making me lazy, waiting on me.”
“I like to wait on you,”
said Kate. She took the bottle of
Vegetable Compound from the drawer and held it up to the light. “Not much left,” she said. “We’ll have to get some more.”
“Oh, I think I have three bottles left of the dozen in my closet.”
Kate picked up the glass.
“There’s a fly in the glass,” she said. “I’ll just go and wash it out.”
In the kitchen she rinsed the glass. From her pocket
she took the eye-dropper. The end was closed with a little piece of potato, the way you plug the spout of a kerosene can. She carefully squeezed a few drops of clear liquid into the glass, a tincture of nux vomica.
Back in Faye’s room she poured the three tablespoons of vegetable compound in the glass and stirred it.
Faye drank her tonic and licked her lips. “It tastes bitter,” she said.
“Does it, dear? Let nie taste.” Kate took a spoonful
from the bottle and made a face. “So it does,” she said. “I guess it’s been standing around too long. I’m going to throw it out. Say, that is bitter. Let me get you a glass of water.”
At supper Faye’s face was flushed. She stopped eating and seemed to be listening.
“What’s the matter?”
Kate asked. “Mother, what’s the matter?”
Faye seemed to tear her attention away. “Why, I don’t know. I guess a little heart flutter. Just all of a sudden I felt afraid and my heart got to pounding.”
“Don’t you want me to help you to your room?”
“No, dear, I feel all right now.”
Grace put down her fork. “Well, you got a real high flush, Faye.”
Kate said, “I don’t like it. I wish you’d see Dr. Wilde.”
“No, it’s all right now.” “You frightened me,”
said Kate. “Have you ever had it before?”
“Well, I’m a little short
of breath sometimes. I guess I’m getting too stout.”
Faye didn’t feel very
good that Saturday night and about
ten o’clock Kate
persuaded her to go to bed.
Kate looked in several times until she was sure Faye was asleep.
The next day Faye felt
all right. “I guess I’m just short-winded,” she said. “Well, we’re going to have invalid food for my darling,” said Kate. “I’ve
made some chicken soup for
you, and we’ll have a string-bean salad—the way you like it, just oil and vinegar, and a
cup of tea.”
“Honest to God, Kate. I feel pretty good.”
“It wouldn’t hurt either
of us to eat a little light. You frightened me last night. I had an aunt who died of heart trouble. And that leaves a memory, you know.”
“I never had any trouble
with my heart. Just a little short-winded when I climb the stairs.”
In the kitchen Kate set
the supper on two trays. She measured out the French dressing in a cup and poured it on the string-bean salad. On Faye’s tray she put her favorite cup and set the soup forward on the stove to heat.
Finally she took the eye-dropper from her pocket and squeezed two drops of crotón
oil on the string beans and stirred it in. She went to her room and swallowed the contents of a small bottle of Cascara Sagrada and hurried back to the kitchen. She poured the hot soup in the cups, filled the teapot with boiling water, and carried the
trays to Faye’s room. “I didn’t think I was
hungry,” Faye said. “But that soup smells good.”
“I made a special salad dressing for you,” said Kate. “It’s an old recipe, rosemary and thyme. See if you like it.” “Why, it’s delicious,”
said Faye. “Is there anything you can’t do darling?”
Kate was stricken first.
Her forehead beaded with perspiration and she doubled over, crying with pain. Her eyes were staring and the saliva ran from her mouth.
Faye ran to the hallway, screaming for help. The girls and a few Sunday customers crowded into the room. Kate was writhing on the floor.
Two of the regulars lifted her onto Faye’s bed and tried to straighten her out, but she screamed and doubled up again. The sweat poured from her body and wet her clothes. Faye was wiping Kate’s forehead with a towel when the pain struck her.
It was an hour before Dr. Wilde could be found playing euchre with a friend. He was dragged down to the Line by two hysterical whores. Faye and Kate were weak from vomiting and diarrhea and the spasms continued at intervals.
Dr. Wilde said, “What
did you eat?” And then he noticed the trays. “Are these string beans home canned?” he demanded.
“Sure,” said Grace. “We did them right here.” “Did any of you have them?”
“Well, no. You see—” “Go out and break every jar,”
Dr. Wilde said.
“Goddam the string beans!” And he unpacked his stomach pump.
On Tuesday he sat with the two pale weak women.
Kate’s bed had been moved into Faye’s room. “I can tell you now,” he said. “I didn’t think you had a chance.
You’re pretty lucky. And let home-made
alone. Buy canned ones.” “What is it?” Kate
“Botulism. We don’t know much about it, but
damn few ever get over it. I guess it’s because you’re young and she’s tough.” He asked Faye, “Are you still bleeding from the bowels?” “Yes, a little.”
“Well, here are some morphine pills. They’ll bind you up. You’ve probably ruptured something. But they say you can’t kill a whore.
Now take it easy, both of you.”
That was October 17.
Faye was never really
well again. She would make a
little gain and then go to pieces. She had a bad time on December 3, and it took even longer for her to gain her strength. February 12 the bleeding became violent and the strain seemed to have weakened Faye’s heart. Dr.
Wilde listened a long time through his stethoscope.
Kate was haggard and
her slender body had shrunk to bones. The girls tried to spell her with Faye, but Kate would not leave.
Grace said, “God knows when’s the last sleep she had. If Faye was to die I think it would kill that girl.”
“She’s just as like to blow her brains out,” said Ethel.
Dr. Wilde took Kate into the day-darkened parlor and
put his black bag on the chair. “I might as well tell you,” he said. “Her heart just can’t take the strain, I’m afraid.
She’s all torn up inside. That goddam botulism. Worse than a rattlesnake.” He looked away from Kate’s haggard face. “I thought it would be better to tell you so you can prepare yourself,” he said lamely and put his hand on her bony shoulder. “Not many people have such loyalty. Give her a little warm milk if she can take it.”
Kate carried a basin of warm water to the table beside the bed. When Trixie looked in, Kate was bathing
Faye and using the fine linen napkins to do it. Then she brushed the lank blond hair and braided it.
Faye’s skin had shrunk, clinging to jaw and skull, and her eyes were huge and vacant.
She tried to speak, and
Kate said, “Shush! Save your strength. Save your strength.”
She went to the kitchen
for a glass of warm milk and put it on the bedside table.
She took two little bottles from her pocket and sucked a little from each one into the eye-dropper.
Mother. This is a new kind of medicine. Now be brave,
dear. This will taste bad.” She squeezed the fluid far back on Faye’s tongue and held up her head so she could drink a little milk to take away the taste. “Now you rest and I’ll be back in a little while.”
Kate slipped quietly out
of the room. The kitchen was dark. She opened the outer door and crept out and moved back among the weeds. The ground was damp from the spring rains. At the back of the lot she dug a small hole with a pointed stick. She dropped in a number of small
thin bottles and an eye-dropper. With the stick she crushed the glass to bits and
scraped dirt over them. Rain was beginning to fall as Kate went back to the house.
At first they had to tie
Kate down to keep her from hurting
violence she went into a gloomy stupor. It was a long time before she regained her health.
And she forgot
completely about the will. It was
Trixie who finally