Chapter no 21

East of Eden

In human affairs of danger and

delicacy successful

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


Kate never

hurried. If a barrier arose, she waited

until it had

disappeared before

continuing. She was capable of

complete relaxation

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

toward his


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


and she

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.

Three of

the girls

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

tell, Kate?”

“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

was a

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

fearful resort.


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

County Bank

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

certificate meant

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.


good morning.

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

getting old,


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

have considered

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

feel it.

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


Can you


“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

on the

blackboard this morning?”

“Sure I

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?”

“Mother, you


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

Salinas—a bowl


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

Lydia Pinkham’s

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.

“Open up,

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


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