Chapter no 23

East of Eden

The Hamiltons were strange,

high-strung people, and some of them were tuned too high and

they snapped.


happens often in the world. Of all his daughters Una was Samuel’s greatest joy. Even as a little girl she hungered for learning as a child does for cookies in the late afternoon. Una and her

father had a conspiracy about learning—secret books were borrowed and read and their secrets

communicated privately.

Of all the children Una

had the least humor. She met and married an intense dark

man—a man whose fingers were stained with chemicals, mostly silver nitrate. He was one of those men who live in poverty so that their lines of questioning may continue.

His question was about

photography. He believed that the exterior world could be transferred to paper—not in the ghost shadings of black and white but in the colors the human eye perceives.

His name was Anderson and he had little gift for communication. Like most technicians, he had a terror and


contempt for

speculation. The inductive leap was not for him. He dug a step and pulled himself up one single step, the way a man climbs the last shoulder of a mountain. He had great contempt, born of fear, for the Hamiltons, for they all half believed they had wings— and they got some bad falls that way.

Anderson never fell,

never slipped back, never flew. His steps moved slowly, slowly upward, and in the end, it is said, he found what he wanted—color film. He married

Una, perhaps,

because she had little humor, and this reassured him. And because her family frightened and embarrassed him, he took her away to the north, and it was black and lost where he went—somewhere

on the

borders of Oregon. He must have lived a very primitive life with his bottles and papers.

Una wrote bleak letters without joy but also without self-pity. She was well and she hoped her family was well. Her husband was near to his discovery.

And then she died and

her body was shipped home.

I never knew Una. She

was dead before I remember, but George Hamilton told me about it many years later and his eyes filled with tears and his voice croaked in the telling.

“Una was not a beautiful girl like Mollie,” he said. “But she had the loveliest hands and feet. Her ankles were as slender as grass and she moved like grass. Her fingers were long and the nails narrow and shaped like

almonds. And Una had lovely skin too, translucent, even glowing.

“She didn’t laugh and

play like the rest of us. There was something set apart about

her. She seemed always to be listening. When she was reading, her face would be like the face of one listening to music. And when we asked her any question, why, she gave the answer, if she knew it—not pointed up and full of

color and ‘maybes’ and ‘it-might-bes’ the way the rest of us would. We were always

full of bull. There was some pure simple thing in Una,” George said.

“And then they brought her home. Her nails were broken to the quick and her

fingers cracked and all worn out. And her poor, dear feet

—” George could not go on for a while, and then he said with the fierceness of a man trying to control himself,

“Her feet were broken and gravel-cut and briar-cut. Her dear feet had not worn shoes for a long time. And her skin was rough as rawhide.

“We think it was an accident,” he said. “So many chemicals around. We think it was.”

But Samuel thought and mourned in the thought that the accident was pain and despair.

Una’s death struck Samuel like

a silent

earthquake. He said no brave and reassuring words, he

simply sat alone and rocked himself. He felt that it was his neglect had done it.

And now his tissue,

which had fought joyously against time, gave up a little. His young skin turned old, his clear eyes dulled, and a little stoop came to his great shoulders. Liza with her acceptance could take care of tragedy; she had no real hope this side of Heaven. But Samuel had put up a laughing wall against natural laws, and Una’s death breached his battlements. He became an old man.

His other children were

doing well. George was in the insurance business. Will was getting rich. Joe had gone

east and was helping to invent a new profession called advertising. Joe’s very faults were virtues in this field. He found

that he could

communicate his material daydreaming—and, properly applied, that is all advertising is. Joe was a big man in a new field.

The girls were married,

all except Dessie, and she had a

successful dressmaking

business in Salinas. Only Tom had never got started. Samuel told Adam Trask that Tom was arguing with

greatness. And the father watched his son and could feel the drive and the fear, the advance and the retreat, because he could feel it in himself.

Tom did not have his father’s lyric softness or his gay good looks. But you could feel Tom when you

came near to him—you could feel strength and warmth and an iron integrity. And under all of this was a shrinking—a shy shrinking. He could be as gay as his father, and suddenly in the middle it would be cut the way you would cut a violin string, and you could watch Tom go whirling into darkness.

He was a dark-faced

man; his skin, perhaps from sun, was a black red, as though

some Norse or

perhaps Vandal blood was perpetuated in him. His hair and beard and mustache were dark red too, and his eyes gleamed

startlingly blue

against his coloring. He was powerful, heavy of shoulders and arm, but his hips were slim. He could lift and run and hike and ride with anyone, but he had no sense of competition whatever. Will and George were gamblers and often tried to entice their

brother into the joys and sorrows of venture.

Tom said, “I’ve tried and it just seems tiresome. I’ve

thought why this must be. I get no great triumph when I win and no tragedy when I lose. Without these it is meaningless. It is not a way to make money, that we know, and unless it can simulate birth and death, joy and sorrow, it seems, at least to me—it feels—it doesn’t feel at all. I would do it if I felt anything—good or bad.”

Will did not understand this. His whole life was competitive and he lived by one kind of gambling or another. He loved Tom and

he tried to give him the things

he himself found pleasant. He took him into business and tried to inoculate him with the joys of buying and selling, of outwitting other men, of judging them for a bluff, of living by maneuver.

Always Tom came back to the ranch, puzzled, not critical,

but feeling that

somewhere he had lost track. He felt that he should take joy in the man-pleasures of contest, but he could not pretend to himself that he did. Samuel had said that

Tom always took too much on his plate, whether it was beans or women. And Samuel

was wise, but I think he knew only one side of Tom. Maybe Tom opened up a little more for children. What I set down about him will be the result of memory plus what I know to be true plus conjecture built on the combination. Who knows whether it will be correct?

We lived in Salinas and we knew when Tom had arrived—I think he always arrived at night—because under our pillows, Mary’s and mine, there would be

packages of gum. And gum was valuable in those days just as a nickel was valuable. There were months when he did not come, but every morning as soon as we

awakened we put our hands under our pillows to see. And I still do it, and it has been many years since there has been gum there.

My sister Mary did not want to be a girl. It was a misfortune she could not get

used to. She was an athlete, a marble player, a pitcher of one-o’-cat, and the trappings of a girl inhibited her. Of course this was long before the compensations for being a girl were apparent to her.

Just as we knew that somewhere on our bodies, probably under the arm, there was a button which if pressed just right would permit us to fly, so Mary had worked out a magic for herself to change

her over into the tough little boy she wanted to be. If she went to sleep in a magical position, knees crooked just right, head at a magical angle, fingers all crossed one over the other, in the morning she would be a boy. Every night she tried to find exactly the right combination, but she never could. I used to help her cross her fingers like shiplap.

She was despairing of

ever getting it right when one morning there was gum under the pillow. We each peeled a stick and solemnly chewed it; it was Beeman’s peppermint, and nothing so delicious has been made since.

Mary was pulling on her

long black ribbed stockings when she said with great relief, “Of course.”

“Of course what?” I asked.

“Uncle Tom,” she said and chewed her gum with great snapping sounds. “Uncle Tom what?” I demanded.

“He’ll know how to get to be a boy.”

There it was—just as simple as that. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

Mother was

in the

kitchen overseeing a new little Danish girl who worked

for us. We had a series of girls. New-come Danish farm families put their daughters out to service with American families, and they learned not only English but American cooking and table setting and manners and all the little niceties of high life in Salinas. At the end of a couple of years of this, at twelve dollars a month, the girls were highly desirable wives for American boys. Not only did they have American manners but they could still work like horses in the fields. Some of the most elegant families in Salinas today are descended from these girls.

It would be flaxen-haired Mathilde

in the

kitchen, with Mother

clucking over her like a hen.

We charged in. “Is he up?”

“Sh!” said Mother. “He got in late. You let him sleep.”

But the water was

running in the basin of the back bedroom so we knew he was up. We crouched like cats at his door, waiting for him to emerge.

There was always a little diffidence between us at first.

I think Uncle Tom was as shy as we were. I think he wanted to come running out and toss us in the air, but instead we were all formal.

“Thank you for the gum, Uncle Tom.”

“I’m glad you liked it.” “Do you think we’ll

have an oyster loaf late at night while you’re here?” “We’ll certainly try, if your mother will let you.”

We drifted into the

sitting room and sat down. Mother’s voice called from the kitchen, “Children, you let him alone.”

“They’re all


Ollie,” he called back.

We sat in a triangle in

the living room. Tom’s face was so dark and his eyes so blue. He wore good clothes but he never seemed well dressed. In this he was very different from his father. His red mustache was never neat and his hair would not lie down and his hands were hard from work.

Mary said, “Uncle Tom,

how do you get to be a boy?” “How?

Why, Mary,

you’re just born a boy.” “No, that’s not what I mean. How do get to be a boy?”

Tom studied her gravely. “You?” he asked.

Her words poured out. “I don’t want to be a girl, Uncle Tom. I want to be a boy. A girl’s all kissing and dolls. I don’t want to be a girl. I don’t want to.” Tears of anger welled up in Mary’s eyes.

Tom looked down at his hands and picked at a loose piece of callus with a broken nail. He wanted to say something beautiful, I think. He wished for words like his father’s words, sweet winged words, cooing and lovely. “I wouldn’t like you to be a boy,” he said.

“Why not?”

“I like you as a girl.” An idol was crashing in

Mary’s temple. “You mean you like girls?”

“Yes, Mary, I like girls very much.”


look of


crossed Mary’s face. If it were true, Tom was a fool.

She put on her don’t-give-me-any-of-that-crap tone.

“All right,” she said, “but how do go about being a boy?”

Tom had a good ear. He knew he was reeling down in Mary’s estimation and he wanted her to love him and to admire him. At the same time there was a fine steel wire of truthfulness in him that cut off the heads of fast-traveling lies. He looked at Mary’s

hair, so light that it was almost white, and braided tight to be out of the way, and dirty at the end of the braid, for Mary wiped her hands on her braid before she made a difficult marble shot. Tom studied her cold and hostile eyes.

“I don’t think you really want to change.”

“I do.”

Tom was wrong—she really did.

“Well,” he said, “you

can’t. And someday you’ll be glad.”

“I won’t be glad,” said Mary, and she turned to me

and said with frigid contempt, “He doesn’t know!”


winced and


shivered at the immensity of her criminal charge. Mary was braver and more ruthless than most. That’s why she won every marble in Salinas.

Tom said uneasily, “If

your mother says it’s all right, I’ll order the oyster loaf this morning and pick it up tonight.”

“I don’t like oyster loaves,”

said Mary and

stalked to our bedroom and slammed the door.

Tom looked ruefully after her. “She’s a girl all

right,” he said.

Now we were alone together and I felt that I had to heal the wound Mary had

made. “I love oyster loaves,” I said.

“Sure you do. So does Mary.”

“Uncle Tom, don’t you think there’s some way for her to be a boy?”

“No, I don’t,” he said

sadly. “I would have told her if I had known.”

“She’s the best pitcher in the West End.”

Tom sighed and looked down at his hands again, and I could see his failure on him and I was sorry for him, aching sorry. I brought out my hollowed cork with pins

stuck down to make bars. “Would you like to have my fly cage, Uncle Tom?”

Oh, he was a great gentleman. “Do you want me to have it?”

“Yes. You see, you pull

up a pin to get the fly in and then he sits in there and buzzes.”

“I’d like to have it very much. Thank you, John.” He worked all day with a sharp tiny pocketknife on a small block of wood, and when we came home from school he had carved a little face. The eyes and ears and lips were movable, and little

perches connected them with the inside of the hollow head. At the bottom of the neck

there was a hole closed by a cork. And this was very wonderful. You caught a fly and eased him through the hole and set the cork. And suddenly the head became alive. The eyes moved and the lips talked and the ears wiggled as the frantic fly crawled

over the little

perches. Even Mary forgave him a little, but she never really trusted him until after she was glad she was a girl, and then it was too late. He gave the head not to me but to us. We still have it put away somewhere, and it still works. Sometimes Tom took me

fishing. We started before the sun came up and drove in the rig straight toward Frémont’s Peak, and as we neared the mountains the stars would pale out and the light would rise to blacken the mountains. I can remember riding and pressing my ear and cheek against Tom’s coat. And I can remember that his arm would rest lightly over my shoulders and his hand pat my arm occasionally.

Finally we

would pull up under an oak tree and take the horse out of the shafts, water him at the stream side, and halter him to the back of the rig.

I don’t remember that

Tom talked. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember the sound of his voice or the kind of words he used. I can remember both about my grandfather, but when I think of Tom it is a memory of a kind of warm silence. Maybe he didn’t talk at all. Tom had beautiful tackle and made his own flies. But he didn’t seem to care whether we caught trout or not. He needed not to triumph over animals.

I remember the five-fingered ferns growing under the little waterfalls, bobbing

their green fingers as the droplets struck them. And I remember the smells of the hills, wild azalea and a very distant skunk and the sweet cloy of lupin and horse sweat

on harness. I remember the sweeping lovely dance of high buzzards against the sky and Tom looking long up at them, but I can’t remember that he ever said anything about them. I remember holding the bight of a line while Tom drove pegs and braided a splice. I remember the smell of crushed ferns in the creel and the delicate sweet odor of fresh damp rainbow trout lying so prettily on the green bed. And finally I can remember coming back to the rig and pouring rolled

barley into the leather feed-bag and buckling it over the horse’s head behind the ears.

And I have no sound of his voice or words in my ear; he is dark and silent and hugely

warm in my memory. Tom felt his darkness.

His father was beautiful and clever, his mother was short and

mathematically sure.

Each of his brothers and sisters had looks or gifts or fortune. Tom loved all of them passionately, but he felt heavy and earth-bound. He climbed ecstatic mountains and floundered in the rocky darkness between the peaks. He had spurts of bravery but they

were bracketed in

battens of cowardice. Samuel said that Tom

was quavering over greatness, trying to decide whether he could

take the cold

responsibility. Samuel knew his son’s quality and felt the potential of violence, and it frightened him, for Samuel had no violence—even when he hit Adam Trask with his fist he had no violence. And the books that came into the house, some of them secretly

—well, Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers,

tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.

Violence and shyness— Tom’s loins needed women and at the same time he did not think himself worthy of a woman. For long periods he would welter in a howling celibacy, and then he would take a train to San Francisco and roll and wallow in women, and then he would come silently back to the ranch, feeling weak and unfulfilled and unworthy, and he would punish himself with work, would plow and plant unprofitable land, would cut tough oakwood until his back was breaking and his arms

were weary rags.

It is probable that his father stood between Tom and the sun, and Samuel’s shadow fell on him. Tom wrote secret poetry, and in those days it was only

sensible to keep it secret. The poets were pale emasculates, and Western men held them in contempt. Poetry was a symptom of weakness, of degeneracy and decay. To read it was to court catcalls.

To write it was to be suspected

and ostracized.

Poetry was a secret vice, and properly so. No one knows whether Tom’s poetry was any good or not, for he

showed it to only one person, and before he died he burned every word. From the ashes in the stove there must have been a great deal of it.

Of all his family Tom loved Dessie best. She was gay. Laughter lived on her doorstep.

Her shop was a unique institution in Salinas. It was a woman’s world. Here all the rules, and the fears that created the iron rules, went down. The door was closed to men. It was a sanctuary where

women could be

themselves—smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful,

and interested.


whalebone corsets came off at Dessie’s, the sacred corsets that molded and warped

woman-flesh into goddess-flesh. At Dessie’s they were women who went to the toilet

and overate and scratched and farted. And from this freedom came

laughter, roars

of laughter.

Men could hear the laughter through the closed door and were properly

frightened at what was going on, feeling, perhaps, that they were the butt of the laughter which to a large extent was


I can see Dessie now,

her gold pince-nez wobbling on a nose not properly bridged for pince-nez, her eyes streaming with hilarious tears, and her whole front constricted with muscular spasms of laughter. Her hair would come down and drift between her glasses and her eyes, and the glasses would fall off her wet nose and spin and swing at the end of their black ribbon.

You had to order a dress from

Dessie months in

advance, and you made twenty visits to her shop

before you chose material and pattern. Nothing so healthy as Dessie had ever happened to Salinas. The men had their lodges, their clubs, their whorehouses;

the women

nothing but the Altar Guild and the mincing coquetry of the minister until Dessie came along.

And then Dessie fell in love. I do not know any details of her love affair—

who the man was or what the circumstances, whether it was religion or a living wife, a disease or a selfishness. I guess my mother knew, but it was one of those things put away in the family closet and

never brought out. And if other people in Salinas knew, they must have kept it a loyal town secret. All I do know is that it was a hopeless thing, gray and terrible. After a year of it the joy was all drained out of Dessie and the laughter had ceased.

Tom raged crazily

through the hills like a lion in horrible pain. In the middle of a night he saddled and rode away, not waiting for the morning train, to Salinas.

Samuel followed him and sent a telegram from King City to Salinas.

And when

in the

morning Tom, his face black, spurred his spent horse up John Street in Salinas, the sheriff was waiting for him. He disarmed Tom and put him in a cell and fed him black coffee and brandy until Samuel came for him.

Samuel did not lecture

Tom. He took him home and never mentioned the incident. And a stillness fell on the Hamilton place.


On Thanksgiving of 1911 the family gathered at the ranch

—all the children except Joe, who was in New York, and Lizzie, who had left the family and joined another,

and Una, who was dead. They arrived with presents and more food than even this clan could eat. They were all married save Dessie and

Tom. Their children filled the Hamilton place with riot. The home place flared up— noisier than it had ever been.

The children cried and

screamed and fought. The men made many trips to the

forge and came back self-consciously wiping

their mustaches.

Liza’s little round face grew redder and redder. She organized and ordered. The

kitchen stove never went out. The beds were full, and comforters laid on pillows on the floor were for children.

Samuel dug up his old gaiety. His sardonic mind glowed and his speech took on its old singing rhythm. He hung on with the talk and the singing and the memories, and then suddenly, and it not midnight, he tired. Weariness came down on him, and he went to his bed where Liza had been for two hours. He was puzzled at himself, not that he had to go to bed but that he wanted to.

When the mother and father

were gone,


brought the whisky in from the forge and the clan had a meeting in the kitchen with whisky passed around in round-bottomed jelly glasses. The mothers crept to the bedrooms to see that the children were covered and then came back. They all spoke softly, not to disturb the children and the old people. There were Tom and Dessie, George and his pretty Mamie, who had been a Dempsey,

Mollie and

William J. Martin, Olive and Ernest Steinbeck, Will and his Deila.

They all wanted to say

the same thing—all ten of them. Samuel was ah old man. It was as startling a discovery as the sudden seeing of a ghost. Somehow they had not believed it could happen. They drank their whisky and talked softly of the new thought.

His shoulders—did you see how they slump? And

there’s no spring in his step.

His toes drag a little, but

it’s not that—it’s in his eyes. His eyes are old.

He never would go to bed until last.

Did you notice he forgot what he was saying right in the middle of a story?

It’s his skin told me. It’s gone wrinkled, and the backs

of his hands have turned transparent.

He favors his right leg. Yes, but that’s the one the horse broke.

I know, but he never favored it before.

They said these things in outrage. This can’t happen, they were saying. Father can’t be an old man. Samuel is young as the dawn—the perpetual dawn.

He might get old as midday maybe, but sweet God! the evening cannot

come, and the night—? Sweet God, no!

It was natural that their

minds leaped on and recoiled, and they would not speak of that, but their minds said,

There can’t be any world without Samuel.

How could we think about

anything without

knowing what he thought about it?

What would the spring

be like, or Christmas, or rain?

There couldn’t be

a Christmas. Their minds shrank

away from such thinking and they looked for a victim— someone to hurt because they were hurt. They turned on


You were here. You’ve been here all along!

How did this happen? When did it happen? Who did this to him? Have you by any chance done

this with your


And Tom could stand it because he had been with it. “It was Una,” he said hoarsely. “He couldn’t get over Una. He told me how a man, a real man, had no right to let sorrow destroy him. He told me again and again how I must believe that time would take care of it. He said

it so often that I knew he was losing.”

“Why didn’t you tell us? Maybe we could have done something.”

Tom leaped up, violent and cringing. “Goddam it!

What was there to tell? That he was dying of sorrow? That the marrow had melted out of his bones? What was there to tell? You weren’t here. I had to look at it and see his eyes die down—goddam it.” Tom went out of the room and they heard his clodhopper feet knocking on the flinty ground outside.

They were ashamed.

Will Martin said, “I’ll go out

and bring him back.” “Don’t do it,” George

said quickly, and the blood kin nodded. “Don’t do it. Let him alone. We know him from

the insides of


In a little while Tom came back. “I want to

apologize,” he said. “I’m very sorry. Maybe I’m a little drunk. Father calls it ‘jolly’ when I do it. One night I rode home”—it was a confession

—”and I came staggering across the yard and I fell into the rosebush and crawled up the stairs on my hands and knees and I was sick on the

floor beside my bed. In the morning I tried to tell him I was sorry, and do you know what he said? ‘Why, Tom, you were just jolly.’ ‘Jolly,’ if did it. A drunken man didn’t crawl home. Just jolly.”

George stopped the

crazy flow of talk. “We want to apologize to you, Tom,” he said. “Why, we sounded as though we were blaming you and we didn’t mean to. Or maybe we did mean to. And we’re sorry.”

Will Martin said

realistically, “It’s too hard a life here. Why don’t we get

him to sell out and move to town? He could have a long and happy life. Mollie and I would like them to come and live with us.”

“I don’t think he’d do

it,” said Will. “He’s stubborn as a mule and proud as a horse. He’s got a pride like brass.”

Olive’s husband, Ernest, said, “Well, there’d be no harm in asking him. We would like to have him—or both of them—with us.” Then they were silent again, for the idea of not having the ranch, the dry,

stony desert of heartbreaking hillside

and unprofitable

hollow, was shocking to them.

Will Hamilton from instinct and training in

business had become a fine reader of the less profound impulses of men and women. He said, “If we ask him to close up shop it will be like asking him to close his life, and he won’t do it.”

“You’re right, Will,” George agreed. “He would think it was like quitting.

He’d feel it was a cowardice. No, he will never sell out, and if he did I don’t think he

would live a week.”

Will said, “There’s

another way. Maybe he could come for a visit. Tom can run the ranch. It’s time Father and Mother saw something of the world. All kinds of things are happening. It would freshen him, and then he could come back and go to work again.

And after a while maybe he wouldn’t have to. He says himself that thing about time doing the job dynamite can’t touch.”

Dessie brushed the hair

out of her eyes. “I wonder if you really think he’s that stupid,” she said.

And Will said out of his

experience, “Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids. We can try it anyway. What do you all think?”

There was a nodding of heads in the kitchen, and only Tom

sat rocklike and brooding.

“Tom, wouldn’t you be willing to take over the ranch?” George asked. “Oh, that’s nothing,”

said Tom. “It’s no trouble to run the ranch because the ranch

doesn’t run—never


“Then why don’t you agree?”

“I’d find a reluctance to insult my father,” Tom said. “He’d know.”

“But where’s the harm in suggesting it?”

Tom rubbed his ears

until he forced the blood out of them and for a moment they were white. “I don’t forbid you,” he said. “But I can’t do it.”

George said, “We could write it in a letter—a kind of invitation, full of jokes. And when he got tired of one of us, why, he could go to another. There’s years of visiting among the lot of us.”

And that was how they left it.


Tom brought Olive’s letter from King City, and because he knew what it contained he waited

until he caught

Samuel alone before he gave it to him. Samuel was working in the forge and his hands were black. He took the envelope by a tiny corner and put it on the anvil, and then he scrubbed his hands in the half-barrel of black water into which he plunged hot iron. He slit the letter open with the point of a horseshoe nail and went into the sunlight to read it. Tom had the wheels off the buckboard

and was buttering the axles with yellow axle grease. He watched his father from the corners of his eyes.

Samuel finished the

letter and folded it and put it back in its envelope. He sat down on the bench in front of the shop and stared into space. Then he opened the letter and read it again and folded it again and put it in his blue shirt pocket. Then Tom saw him stand up and walk slowly up the eastern hill, kicking at the flints on the ground.

There had been a little rain and a fuzz of miserly

grass had started up. Halfway

up the hill Samuel squatted down and took up a handful of the harsh gravelly earth in his palm and spread it with his

forefinger, flint


sandstone and bits of shining mica and a frail rootlet and a veined stone. He let it slip from his hand and brushed his palms. He picked a spear of grass and set it between his teeth and stared up the hill to the sky. A gray nervous cloud was

scurrying eastward,

searching for trees on which to rain.

Samuel stood up and

sauntered down the hill. He looked into the tool shed and patted



supports. He paused near Tom and spun one of the free-running wheels of the buckboard, and he inspected Tom as though he saw him for the first time. “Why, you’re a grown-up man,” he said.

“Didn’t you know?”

“I guess I did—I guess I did,”

said Samuel and

sauntered on. There was the sardonic look on his face his family knew so well—the

joke on himself that made him laugh inwardly. He walked by the sad little garden and all around the house—not a new house any more. Even the last added lean-to bedrooms were old and weathered and the putty around the windowpanes had shrunk away from the glass. At the porch he turned and surveyed the whole home cup of the ranch before he went inside.

Liza was rolling out pie

crust on the floury board. She was so expert with the rolling pin that the dough seemed alive. It flattened out and then pulled back a little from tension in itself. Liza lifted the pale sheet of it and laid it

over one of the pie tins and trimmed the edges with a knife. The prepared berries lay deep in red juice in a bowl.

Samuel sat down in a kitchen chair and crossed his legs and looked at her. His eyes were smiling.

“Can’t you find

something to do this time of day?” she asked.

“Oh, I guess I could, Mother, if I wanted to.” “Well, don’t sit there

and make me nervous. The paper’s in the other room if you’re feeling day-lazy.” “I’ve read it,” said


“All of it?” “All I want to.” “Samuel, what’s


matter with you? You’re up to something. I can see it in your face. Now tell it, and let me get on with my pies.”

He swung his leg and smiled at her. “Such a little

bit of a wife,” he said. “Three of her is hardly a bite.” “Samuel, now you stop

this. I don’t mind a joke in the evening sometimes, but it’s not eleven o’clock. Now you go along.”

Samuel said, “Liza, do

you know the meaning of the English word ‘vacation’?” “Now don’t you make

jokes in the morning.” “Do you, Liza?”

“Of course I do. Don’t play me for a fool.” “What does it mean?” “Going away for a rest to the sea and the beach.

Now, Samuel, get out with your fooling.”

“I wonder how you know the word.” “Will you tell me what

you’re after? Why shouldn’t I know?”

“Did you ever have one, Liza?”

“Why, I—” She stopped. “In fifty years, did you ever have a vacation, you

little, silly, half-pint, smidgin of a wife?”

“Samuel, please go out

of my kitchen,” she said apprehensively.

He took the letter from

his pocket and unfolded it. “It’s from Ollie,” he said. “She wants us to come and visit in Salinas. They’ve fixed over the upstairs rooms. She wants us to get to know the children. She’s got us tickets for the Chautauqua season.

Billy Sunday’s going to wrestle with the Devil and Bryan is going to make his Cross of Gold speech. I’d like to hear that. It’s an old fool of a speech but they say he gives it in a way to break your heart.”

Liza rubbed her nose

and floured it with her finger. “Is it very costly?” she asked

anxiously. “Costly?

Ollie has

bought the tickets. They’re a present.”

“We can’t go,” said

Liza. “Who’d run the ranch?” “Tom


running there is to do in the winter.”

“He’d be lonely.” “George would maybe

come out and stay a while to go quail hunting. See what’s in the letter, Liza.”

“What are those?” “Two tickets to Salinas

on the train. Ollie says she doesn’t want to give us a single escape.”

“You can just turn them in and send her back the money.”

“No, I can’t. Why, Liza

—Mother—now don’t. Here

—here’s a handkerchief.” “That’s a dish towel,” said Liza.

“Sit here, Mother.

There! I guess the shock of taking a rest kind of threw you. Here! I know it’s a dish towel. They say that Billy Sunday drives the Devil all over the stage.”

“That’s a blasphemy,” said Liza.

“But I’d like to see it, wouldn’t you? What did you say? Hold up your head. I

didn’t hear you. What did you say?”

“I said yes,” said Liza.

Tom was making a

drawing when Samuel came in to him. Tom looked at his father with veiled eyes, trying to read the effect of Olive’s letter.

Samuel looked at the drawing. “What is it?” “I’m trying to work out a gate-opener so a man won’t have to get out of his rig.

Here’s the pull-rod to open the latch.”

“What’s going to open it?”

“I figured a strong spring.”

Samuel studied


drawing. “Then what’s going to close it?”

“This bar here. It would slip to this spring with the tension the other way.”

“I see,” said Samuel. “It might work too, if the gate was truly hung. And it would only take twice as much time to make and keep up as twenty years of getting out of the rig and opening the gate.”

Tom protested,

“Sometimes with a skittish horse—”

“I know,” said his father. “But the main reason is that it’s fun.”

Tom grinned. “Caught me,” he said.

“Tom, do you think you could look after the ranch if your mother and I took a little trip?”

“Why, sure,” said Tom. “Where do you plan to go?” “Ollie wants us to stay

with her for a while in Salinas.”

“Why, that would be

fine,” said Tom. “Is Mother agreeable?”

“She is, always

forgetting the expense.” “That’s fine,” said Tom. “How long do you plan to be gone?”

Samuel’s jeweled,

sardonic eyes dwelt on Tom’s

face until Tom said, “What’s the matter, Father?”

“It’s the little tone, son

—so little that I could barely hear it. But it was there. Tom, my son, if you have a secret with your brothers and sisters, I don’t mind. I think that’s good.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Tom.

“You may thank God you didn’t want to be an actor, Tom, because you

would have been a very bad one. You worked it out at Thanksgiving, I guess, when you were all together. And it’s working smooth as butter. I see Will’s hand in this.

Don’t tell me if you don’t want to.”

“I wasn’t in favor of it,” said Tom.

“It doesn’t sound like

you,” his father said. “You’d be for scattering the truth out in the sun for me to see.

Don’t tell the others I know.” He turned away and then came back and put his hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Thank you for wanting to honor me with the truth, my son. It’s not clever but it’s more permanent.”

“I’m glad you’re going.” Samuel stood in the doorway of the forge and

looked at the land. “They say a mother loves best an ugly child,” he said, and he shook his head sharply. “Tom, I’ll trade you honor for honor.

You will please hold this in your dark secret place, nor tell any of your brothers and sisters—I know why I’m going—and, Tom, I know where I’m going, and I am content.”

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