Chapter no 24

East of Eden

I have wondered why it is that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death than others. Una’s death cut the earth from under Samuel’s feet and opened his defended keep and let in old age. On the other hand Liza, who surely loved her family as deeply as did her husband, was not destroyed or warped. Her life continued evenly.

She felt sorrow but she survived it.

I think perhaps Liza accepted the world as she

accepted the Bible, with all of its paradoxes and its reverses. She did not like death but she knew it existed, and when it came it did not surprise her.

Samuel may have

thought and played and philosophized about death, hut he did not really believe in it. His world did not have death as a member. He, and all around him, was immortal. When real death came it was an outrage, a denial of the immortality he deeply felt, and the one crack in his wall

caused the whole structure to crash. I think he had always thought

he could argue

himself out of death. It was a personal opponent and one he could lick.

To Liza it was simply death—the thing promised and expected. She could go on and in her sorrow put a pot of beans in the oven, bake six pies, and plan to exactness how much food would be necessary properly to feed the funeral guests. And she could in her sorrow see that Samuel had a clean white shirt and that his black broadcloth was brushed and free of spots and

his shoes blacked. Perhaps it takes these two kinds to make a good marriage, riveted with several kinds of strengths.

Once Samuel accepted,

he could probably go farther than Liza, but the process of accepting tore him to pieces. Liza watched him closely after the decision to go to Salinas. She didn’t quite know what he was up to but, like a good and cautious mother, she knew he was up to something. She was a complete realist. Everything else being equal, she was glad to be going to visit her children. She was curious about them and their children. She had no love of places. A place was only a resting stage

on the way to Heaven. She did not like work for itself, but she did it because it was there to be done. And she was tired. Increasingly it was more difficult to fight the aches and stiffnesses which tried to keep her in bed in the morning—not that they ever succeeded.

And she looked forward

to Heaven as a place where clothes did not get dirty and where food did not have to be cooked and dishes washed.

Privately there were some things in Heaven of which she did not quite approve. There was too much singing, and she didn’t see how even the Elect could survive for very

long the


laziness which was promised. She would find something to do in Heaven. There must be something to take up one’s time—some clouds to darn, some weary wings to rub with liniment. Maybe the collars of the robes needed turning now and then, and when you come right down to it, she couldn’t believe that even in Heaven there would not be cobwebs in some corner to be knocked down with a cloth-covered broom.

She was gay and

frightened about the visit to Salinas. She liked the idea so well that she felt there must be something bordering on sin involved in it. And the Chautauqua? Well, she didn’t have to go and probably wouldn’t. Samuel would run wild—she would have to watch him. She never lost her feeling that he was young and helpless. It was a good thing that she did not know what went on in his mind, and, through

his mind, what

happened to his body.

Places were very

important to Samuel. The ranch was a relative, and when he left it he plunged a knife into a darling. But having made up his mind, Samuel set about doing it well. He made formal calls on

all of his neighbors, the old-timers who remembered how it used to be and how it was.

And when he drove away from his old friends they knew they would not see him again, although he did not say it. He took to gazing at the mountains and the trees, even at

faces, as though to

memorize them for eternity. He saved his visit to the

Trask place for last. He had not been there for months. Adam was not a young man any more. The boys were eleven years old, and Lee— well, Lee did not change much. Lee walked to the shed with Samuel.

“I’ve wanted to talk to you for a long time,” said

Lee. “But there’s so much to do. And I try to get to San Francisco at least once a month.”

“You know how it is,” Samuel said. “When you know a friend is there you do not go to see him. Then he’s gone and you blast your conscience to shreds that you did not see him.”

“I heard about your

daughter. I’m sorry.”

“I got your letter, Lee. I have it. You said good things.”

“Chinese things,” said Lee. “I seem to get more Chinese as I get older.” “There’s


changed about you, Lee. What is it?”

“It’s my queue, Mr. Hamilton. I’ve cut off my queue.”

“That’s it.”

“We all did. Haven’t you heard? The Dowager Empress is gone. China is free. The Manchus are not overlords and we do not wear queues. It was a proclamation of the new government. There’s not

a queue left anywhere.” “Does

it make

adifference, Lee?” “Not much. It’s easier.

But there’s a

kind of

looseness on the scalp that makes me uneasy. It’s hard to get used to the convenience of it.”

“How is Adam?” “He’s all right. But he hasn’t

changed much.


wonder what he was like


“Yes, I’ve wondered about that. It was a short

flowering. The boys must be big.”

“They are big. I’m glad I stayed here. I learned a great deal from seeing the boys grow and helping a little.” “Did you teach them Chinese?”

“No. Mr. Trask didn’t

want me to. And I guess he was right. It would have been a needless complication. But I’m their friend—yes, I’m their friend. They admire their father, but I think they love me. And they’re very different. You can’t imagine how different.”

“In what way, Lee?”

“You’ll see when they come home from school.

They’re like two sides of a medal. Cal is sharp and dark and watchful, and his brother

—well, he’s a boy you like before he speaks and like more afterwards.”

“And you don’t like Cal?”

“I find myself defending him—to



fighting for his life and his brother doesn’t have to fight.” “I have the same thing in

my brood,” said Samuel. “I don’t understand it. You’d think with the same training and the same blood they’d be alike, but they’re not—not at


Later Samuel and Adam walked

down the

oak-shadowed road

to the

entrance to the draw where they could look out at the Salinas Valley.

“Will you stay to

dinner?” Adam asked. “I

will not be

responsible for the murder of

more chickens,” said Samuel. “Lee’s got a pot roast.” “Well, in that case—”

Adam still carried one shoulder lower than the other from the old hurt. His face was hard and curtained, and his eyes looked at generalities and did not inspect details.

The two men stopped in the road and looked out at the valley, green tinged from the early rains.

Samuel said softly, “I wonder you do not feel a shame at leaving that land fallow.”

“I had no reason to plant

it,” Adam said. “We had that out before. You thought I would change. I have not changed.”

“Do you take pride in your hurt?” Samuel asked.

“Does it make you seem large and tragic?”

“I don’t know.” “Well, think about it.

Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.”

A slight anger came into Adam’s voice. “Why do you come to lecture me? I’m glad you’ve come, but why do you dig into me?”

“To see whether I can

raise a little anger in you. I’m a nosy man. But there’s all that fallow land, and here beside me is all that fallow man. It seems a waste. And I have a bad feeling about waste because I could never

afford it. Is it a good feeling to let life lie fallow?” “What else could I do?” “You could try again.” Adam faced him. “I’m afraid to, Samuel,” he said. “I’d rather just go about it

this way. Maybe I haven’t the energy or the courage.” “How about your boys—

do you love them?” “Yes—yes.”

“Do you love one more than the other?”

“Why do you say that?” “I

don’t know.

Something about your tone.” “Let’s go back to the house,” said Adam. They strolled back under the trees.

Suddenly Adam said, “Did you ever hear that Cathy was in Salinas? Did you ever hear such a rumor?”

“Did you?” “Yes—but I


believe it. I can’t believe it.”

Samuel walked silently

in the sandy wheel rut of the road.

His mind turned

sluggishly in the pattern of Adam and almost wearily took up a thought he had hoped was finished. He said at last, “You have never let her go.”

“I guess not. But I’ve let

the shooting go. I don’t think about it any more.”

“I can’t tell you how to

live your life,” Samuel said, “although I do be telling you how to live it. I know that it might be better for you to come out from under your might-have-beens, into the winds of the world. And while I tell you, I am myself sifting my memories, the way men pan the dirt under a barroom floor for the bits of gold dust that fall between the cracks. It’s small mining— small mining. You’re too young a man to be panning memories, Adam. You should be getting yourself some new ones, so that the mining will be richer when you come to


Adam’s face was bent

down, and his jawbone jutted below his temples from clenching.

Samuel glanced at him. “That’s right,” he said. “Set your teeth in it. How we do defend a wrongness! Shall I tell you what you do, so you will not think you invented it? When you go to bed and blow out the lamp—then she stands in the doorway with a little light behind her, and you can see her nightgown stir. And she comes sweetly to your bed,

and you, hardly

breathing, turn back the

covers to receive her and move your head over on the pillow to make room for her head beside yours. You can smell the sweetness of her skin, and it smells like no other skin in the world—” “Stop it,” Adam shouted

at him. “Goddam you, stop it! Stop nosing over my life!

You’re like a coyote sniffing around a dead cow.”

“The way I know,”

Samuel said softly, “is that one came to me that selfsame way—night after month after year, right to the very now.

And I think I should have double-bolted my mind and sealed off my heart against her, but I did not. All of these years I’ve cheated Liza. I’ve

given her an untruth, a counterfeit, and I’ve saved the best for those dark sweet hours. And now I could wish that she may have had some secret caller too. But I’ll never know that. I think she would maybe have bolted her heart shut and thrown the key to hell.”

Adam’s hands were

clenched and the blood was driven out of his white knuckles. “You make me doubt

myself,” he


fiercely. “You always have. I’m afraid of you. What

should I do, Samuel? Tell me! I don’t know how you saw the thing so clear. What should I do?”

“I know the ‘shoulds,’ although I never do them, Adam. I always know the ‘shoulds.’ You should try to find a new Cathy. You should let the new Cathy kill the dream Cathy—let the two of them fight it out. And you, sitting by, should marry your mind to the winner. That’s the second-best should. The best would be to search out and find some fresh new loveliness to cancel out the old.”

“I’m afraid to try,” said Adam.


what you’ve

said. And now I’m going to put a selfishness on you. I’m going away, Adam. I came to say good-by.”

“What do you mean?” “My daughter Olive has asked Liza and me to visit

with her in Salinas, and we’re going—day after tomorrow.” “Well, you’ll be back.” Samuel went on, “After we’ve visited with Olive for maybe a month or two, there will come a letter from George. And his feelings will be hurt if we don’t visit him in Paso Robles. And after that Mollie will want us in San Francisco, and then Will, and maybe even Joe in the East, if

we should live so long.” “Well, won’t you like that?

You’ve earned it.

You’ve worked hard enough on that dust heap of yours.” “I love that dust heap,” Samuel said. “I love it the way a bitch loves her runty pup. I love every flint, the plow-breaking outcroppings, the thin and barren top-soil, the waterless heart of her.

Somewhere in my dust heap there’s a richness.”

“You deserve a rest.” “There, you’ve said it again,” said Samuel. “That’s what Ihad to accept,” and I

have accepted. When you say

I deserve a rest, you are saying that my life is over.” “Do you believe that?” “That’s what I have accepted.”

Adam said excitedly,

“You can’t do that. Why, if you accept that you won’t live!”

“I know,” said Samuel. “But you can’t do that.” “Why not?”

“I don’t want you to.” “I’m a nosy old man,

Adam. And the sad thing to me is that I’m losing my nosiness. That’s maybe how I know it’s time to visit my children.

I’m having to

pretend to be nosy a good deal of the time.”

“I’d rather you worked your guts out on your dust heap.”

Samuel smiled at him. “What a nice thing to hear! And I thank you. It’s a good thing to be loved, even late.”

Suddenly Adam turned

in front of him so that Samuel had to stop. “I know what you’ve done for me,” Adam said. “I can’t return anything. But I can ask you for one more thing. If I asked you, would you do me one more kindness, and maybe save my life?”

“I would if I could.”

Adam swung out his

hand and made an arc over

the west. “That land out there

—would you help me to make the garden we talked of, the windmills and the wells and the flats of alfalfa? We could



There’s money in that. Think what it would be like, acres of sweet peas and gold squares of calendulas. Maybe ten acres of roses for the gardens of the West. Think how they would smell on the west wind!”

“You’re going to make

me cry,” Samuel said, “and that would be an unseemly thing in an old man.” And indeed his eyes were wet. “I thank you, Adam,” he said.

“The sweetness of your offer is a good smell on the west wind.”

“Then you’ll do it?” “No, I will not do it. But

I’ll see it in my mind when I’m in Salinas, listening to William Jennings Bryan. And maybe I’ll get to believe it happened.”

“But I want to do it.” “Go and see my Tom.

He’ll help you. He’d plant the world with roses, poor man, if he could.”

“You know what you’re doing, Samuel?”

“Yes, I know what I’m doing, know so well that it’s half done.”

“What a stubborn man you are!”

“Contentious,” said

Samuel. “Liza says I am contentious, but now I’m caught in a web of my children—and I think I like it.”


The dinner table was set in the house. Lee said, “I’d have liked to serve it under the tree like the other times, but the air is chilly.”

“So it is, Lee,” said Samuel.

The twins came in silently and stood shyly staring at their guest. “It’s a long time since

I’ve seen you, boys. But we named you well. You’re Caleb, aren’t you?”

“I’m Cal.”

“Well, Cal then.” And

he turned to the other. “Have you found a way to rip the backbone out of your name?” “Sir?”

“Are you called Aaron?” “Yes, sir.”

Lee chuckled. “He spells it with one a. The two a’s seem a little fancy to his friends.”

“I’ve got


Belgian hares, sir,” Aron said. “Would you like to see them, sir? The hutch is up by the spring.

I’ve got eight

newborns—just born yesterday.”

“I’d like to see them, Aron.” His mouth twitched. “Cal, don’t tell me you’re a gardener?”

Lee’s head snapped

around and he inspected Samuel. “Don’t do that,” Lee said nervously.

Cal said, “Next year my father is going to let me have an acre in the flat.”

Aron said, “I’ve got a buck rabbit weighs fifteen

pounds. I’m going to give it to my father for his birthday.”

They heard

Adam’s bedroom door opening.

“Don’t tell him,” Aron said quickly. “It’s a secret.”

Lee sawed at the pot roast. “Always you bring trouble for my mind, Mr. Hamilton,” he said. “Sit down, boys.”

Adam came in, turning down his sleeves, and took his seat at the head of the table. “Good evening, boys,” he said, and they replied in unison,

“Good evening, Father.”

And, “Don’t you tell,” said Aron.




assured him. “Don’t tell what?” Adam asked. Samuel said, “Can’t there be a privacy? I have a secret with your son.”

Cal broke in, “I’ll tell

you a secret too, right after dinner.”

“I’ll like to hear it,” said Samuel. “And I do hope I don’t know already what it is.”

Lee looked up from his carving and glared at Samuel. He began piling meat on the plates.

The boys ate quickly and quietly, wolfed their food. Aron said, “Will you excuse

us, Father?”

Adam nodded, and the

two boys went quickly out. Samuel looked after them. “They

seem older than

eleven,” he said. “I seem to remember that at eleven my brood were howlers and screamers and runners in circles. These seem like grown men.”

“Do they?” Adam asked. Lee said, “I think I see why that is. There is no

woman in the house to put a value on babies. I don’t think men care much for babies, and so it was never an advantage to these boys to be

babies. There was nothing to gain by it. I don’t know whether that is good or bad.” Samuel wiped up the remains of gravy in his plate with a slice of bread. “Adam, I wonder whether you know what you have in Lee. A

philosopher who can cook, or a cook who can think? He has taught me a great deal. You must have learned from him, Adam.”

Adam said, “I’m afraid I didn’t

listen enough—or

maybe he didn’t talk.” “Why didn’t you want the boys to learn Chinese, Adam?”

Adam thought for a

moment. “It seems a time for honesty,” he said at last. “I guess it was plain jealousy. I gave it another name, but maybe I didn’t want them to be able so easily to go away from me in a direction I couldn’t follow.”

“That’s reasonable, enough and

almost too

human,” said Samuel. “But knowing it—that’s a great jump. I wonder whether I have ever gone so far.” Lee brought the gray enameled coffeepot to the

table and filled the cups and sat down. He warmed the

palm of his hand against the rounded side of his cup. And then Lee laughed. “You’ve given me great trouble, Mr. Hamilton,

and you’ve

disturbed the tranquillity of China.”

“How do you mean, Lee?”

“It almost seems that I

have told you this,” said Lee. “Maybe I only composed it in my mind, meaning to tell you.

It’s an

amusing story anyway.”

“I want to hear,” said Samuel, and he looked at

Adam. “Don’t you want to hear, Adam? Or are you slipping into your cloud bath?”

“I was thinking of that,” said Adam. “It’s funny—a

kind of excitement is coming over me.”

“That’s good,” said

Samuel. “Maybe that’s the best of all good things that can happen to a human. Let’s hear your story, Lee.”

The Chinese reached to the side of his neck and he smiled. “I wonder whether

I’ll ever get used to the lack of a queue,” he said. “I guess I used it more than I knew.

Yes, the story. I told you, Mr.

Hamilton, that I was growing more Chinese. Do you ever grow more Irish?”

“It comes and goes,” said Samuel.

“Do you


when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”

“I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”

“Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I

compared the translations we

have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this

—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shall thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”

Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.

Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It

was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made.”

Samuel put his palms

down on the table and leaned forward and the old young light came into his eyes. “Lee,” he said, “don’t tell me you studied Hebrew!”

Lee said, “I’m going to

tell you. And it’s a fairly long story. Will you have a touch of ng-ka-py?”

“You mean the drink that tastes of good rotten apples?”

“Yes. I can talk better with it.”

“Maybe I can listen better,” said Samuel. While Lee went to the kitchen

Samuel asked,

“Adam, did you know about this?”

“No,” said Adam. “He didn’t tell me. Maybe I wasn’t listening.”

Lee came back with his stone bottle and three little porcelain cups so thin and delicate that the light shone through



Chinee, fashion,” he said and poured the almost black liquor. “There’s a lot of wormwood in this. It’s quite a drink,” he said. “Has about the same effect as absinthe if you drink enough of it.” Samuel sipped the drink.

“I want to know why you were so interested,” he said. “Well, it seemed to me

that the man who could conceive this great story would know exactly what he wanted to say and there would be no confusion in his statement.”

“You say ‘the man.’ Do you then not think this is a divine book written by the inky finger of God?”

“I think the mind that could think this story was a curiously divine mind. We

have had a few such minds in China too.”

“I just wanted to know,” said Samuel. “You’re not a Presbyterian after all.”

“I told you I was getting more Chinese. Well, to go on, I went to San Francisco to the headquarters of our family association. Do you know about

them? Our great

families have centers where any member can get help or give it. The Lee family is very large. It takes care of its own.”

“I have heard of them,” said Samuel.

“You mean Chinee

hatchet man fightee Tong war over slave girl?”

“I guess so.”

“It’s a little different

from that, really,” said Lee. “I went there because in our family there are a number of ancient reverend gentlemen who are great scholars. They are thinkers in exactness. A man may spend many years pondering a sentence of the scholar you call Confucius. I thought

there might be

experts in meaning who could advise me.

“They are fine old men.

They smoke their two pipes of opium in the afternoon and it rests and sharpens them, and they sit through the night and

their minds are

wonderful. I guess no other people have been able to use opium well.”

Lee dampened his

tongue in the black brew. “I respectfully submitted my problem to one of these sages, read him the story, and told him what I understood

from it. The next night four of them met and called me in.

We discussed the story all night long.”

Lee laughed. “I guess

it’s funny,” he said. “I know I wouldn’t dare tell it to many people. Can you imagine four old gentlemen, the youngest is over ninety now, taking on the study of Hebrew? They engaged a learned rabbi. They took to the study as though they were children. Exercise books, grammar, vocabulary, simple sentences. You should see

Hebrew written in

Chinese ink with a brush! The right to left didn’t bother

them as much as it would you, since we write up to down.

Oh, they were

perfectionists! They went to the root of the matter.” “And

you?” said Samuel.

“I went along with them, marveling at the beauty of their proud clean brains. I began to love my race, and for the first time I wanted to be Chinese. Every two weeks I went to a meeting with them, and in my room here I covered pages with writing. I bought every known Hebrew


But the old

gentlemen were always ahead of me. It wasn’t long before they were ahead of our rabbi; he brought a colleague in. Mr. Hamilton, you should have sat through some of those nights

of argument and

discussion. The questions, the inspection, oh, the lovely thinking—the

beautiful thinking.

“After two years we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth

chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—’Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘ Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now

they are

studying Greek.”

Samuel said, “It’s a

fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The

American Standard

translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou


that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou

mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”

“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw

their weight into

obedience. And there are millions

more who feel

predestination in


shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But “Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”

“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It

is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. And do you know, those old gentlemen who were sliding gently down to death are too interested to die now?”

Adam said, “Do you mean these Chinese men

believe the Old Testament?”

Lee said, “These old

men believe a true story, and they know a true story when they hear it. They are critics

of truth. They know that these sixteen verses are a history of humankind in any age or culture or race. They do not believe a man writes fifteen and three-quarter verses of truth and tells a lie with one verb. Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives.

But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under

weakness and

cowardliness and laziness.”

Adam said, “I don’t see

how you could cook and raise the boys and take care of me and still do all this.”

“Neither do I,” said Lee. “But I take my two pipes in

the afternoon, no more and no less, like the elders. And I feel that I am a man. And I feel that a man is a very important


more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering

instrument, the

human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never

destroyed—because ‘Thou mayest.’ ”


Lee and Adam walked out to the shed with Samuel to see him off. Lee carried a tin lantern to light the way, for it was one of those clear early winter nights when the sky riots with stars and the earth seems doubly dark because of them. A silence lay on the hills. No animal moved about, neither grass-eater nor predator, and the air was so still that the dark limbs and leaves of the live oaks stood unmoving against the Milky Way. The three men were silent. The bail of the tin lantern squeaked a little as the light swung in Lee’s hand.

Adam asked, “When do

you think you’ll be back from your trip?”

Samuel did not answer.

Doxology stood

patiently in the stall, head down, his milky eyes staring at the straw under his feet. “You’ve had that horse forever,” Adam said.

“He’s thirty-three,” said Samuel. “His teeth are worn off. I have to feed him warm mash with my fingers. And he has bad dreams. He shivers and cries sometimes in his sleep.”

“He’s about as ugly a crow bait as I ever saw,” Adam said.

“I know it. I think that’s why I picked him when he was a colt. Do you know I paid two dollars for him

thirty-three years


Everything was wrong with him, hoofs like flapjacks, a hock so thick and short and straight there seems no joint at all. He’s hammerheaded and swaybacked. He has a pinched chest and a big behind. He has an iron mouth and he still fights the crupper. With a saddle he feels as though you were riding a sled over a gravel pit. He can’t trot and he stumbles over his feet when he walks. I have never in thirty-three years found one good thing about him. He even has an ugly disposition. He is selfish and quarrelsome and mean and disobedient. To

this day I don’t dare walk behind him because he will surely take a kick at me.

When I feed him mash he tries to bite my hand. And I love him.”

Lee said, “And you named him ‘Doxology.’ ” “Surely,” said Samuel, “so ill endowed a creature deserved, I thought, one

grand possession. He hasn’t very long now.”

Adam said, “Maybe you should put him out of his misery.”

“What misery?” Samuel demanded. “He’s one of the few happy and consistent beings I’ve ever met.”

“He must have aches and pains.”

“Well, he doesn’t think

so. Doxology still thinks he’s one hell of a horse. Would you shoot him, Adam?” “Yes, I think I would.

Yes, I would.” “You’d

take the

responsibility?” “Yes, I think I would.

He’s thirty-three. His lifespan is long over.”

Lee had set his lantern on

the ground. Samuel squatted beside it


instinctively stretched his

hands for warmth to the butterfly of yellow light. “I’ve been bothered by something, Adam,” he said. “What is that?”

“You would really shoot my horse because death

might be more comfortable?” “Well, I meant—”

Samuel said quickly, “Do you like your life, Adam?”

“Of course not.”

“If I had a medicine that might cure you and also might kill you, should I give it to you? Inspect yourself, man.”

“What medicine?”

“No,” said Samuel. “If I tell you, believe me when I say it may kill you.”

Lee said, “Be careful,

Mr. Hamilton. Be careful.” “What is this?” Adam demanded. “Tell me what you’re thinking of.” Samuel said softly, “I think for once I will not be

careful. Lee, if I am wrong— listen—if I am mistaken, I accept the responsibility and I will take what blame there is to take.”

“Are you sure you’re right?” Lee asked anxiously. “Of course I’m not sure.

Adam, do you want the medicine?”

“Yes. I don’t know what it is but give it to me.”

“Adam, Cathy is in Salinas.

She owns a

whorehouse, the most vicious and depraved in this whole end of the country. The evil and ugly, the distorted and slimy,

the worst things

humans can think up are for sale there. The crippled and crooked

come there for

satisfaction. But it is worse than that. Cathy, and she is now called Kate, takes the

fresh and young and beautiful and so maims them that they can never be whole again.

Now, there’s your medicine. Let’s see what it does to you.”

“You’re a liar!” Adam said.




things I am, but a liar I am not.”

Adam whirled on Lee. “Is this true?”

“I’m no antidote,” said Lee. “Yes. It’s true.”

Adam stood swaying in

the lantern light and then he turned and ran. They could hear his heavy steps running and tripping. They heard him

falling over the brush and scrambling and clawing his way upward on the slope. The sound of him stopped only when he had gone over the brow of the hill.

Lee said, “Your

medicine acts like poison.” “I take responsibility,” said Samuel. “Long ago I

learned this: When a dog has eaten strychnine and is going to die, you must get an ax and carry him to a chopping block. Then you must wait for his next convulsion, and in that moment—chop off his tail. Then, if the poison has not gone too far, your dog may recover. The shock of

pain can

counteract the

poison. Without the shock he will surely die.”

“But how do you know

this is the same?” Lee asked. “I don’t. But without it

he would surely die.” “You’re a brave man,” Lee said.

“No, I’m an old man.

And if I should have anything on my conscience it won’t be for long.”

Lee asked, “What do you suppose he’ll do?” “I don’t know,” said

Samuel, “but at least he won’t sit around and mope. Here, hold the lantern for me, will


In the yellow light Samuel slipped the bit in

Doxology’s mouth, a bit worn so thin that it was a flake of steel. The check rein had been abandoned long ago.

The old hammerhead was free to drag his nose if he wished, or to pause and crop grass beside the road. Samuel didn’t care. Tenderly he buckled the crupper, and the horse edged around to try to kick him.

When Dox was between the shafts of the cart Lee

asked, “Would you mind if I rode along with you a little? I’ll walk back.”

“Come along,”


Samuel, and he tried not to notice that Lee helped him up into the cart.

The night was very dark, and Dox showed his disgust for

night-traveling by

stumbling every few steps.

Samuel said, “Get on

with it, Lee. What is it you want to say?”

Lee did not appear surprised. “Maybe I’m nosy

the way you say you are. I get to




probabilities, but tonight you fooled me completely. I

would have taken any bet that you of all men would not have told Adam.”

“Did you know about her?”

“Of course,” said Lee, “Do the boys know?” “I don’t think so, but

that’s only a matter of time. You know how cruel children are.

Someday in


schoolyard it will be shouted at them.”

“Maybe he ought to take them away from here,” said Samuel. “Think about that, Lee.”

“My question

isn’t answered, Mr.


How were you able to do what you did?”

“Do you think I was that wrong?”

“No, I don’t mean that at

all. But I’ve never thought of you as taking any strong unchanging

stand on

anything. This has been my judgment.

Are you


“Show me the man who isn’t interested in discussing himself,” said Samuel. “Go


“You’re a kind man, Mr. Hamilton. And I’ve always thought it was the kindness that comes from not wanting any trouble. And your mind is as facile as a young lamb leaping in a daisy field. You have never to my knowledge taken a bulldog grip on anything. And then tonight you did a thing that tears down my whole picture of you.”

Samuel wrapped the

lines around a stick stuck in the

whip socket, and

Doxology stumbled on down the rutty road. The old man stroked his beard, and it shone very white in the starlight. He took off his black hat and laid it in his lap. “I guess it surprised me as much as it did you,” he said. “But if you want to know why—look into yourself.”


don’t understand you.”

“If you had only told me about your studies earlier it might have made a great difference, Lee.”

“I still don’t understand you.”

“Careful, Lee, you’ll get me talking. I told you my

Irish came and went. It’s coming now.”

Lee said, “Mr. Hamilton, you’re going away and you’re not coming back. You do not intend to live very much longer.”

“That’s true, Lee. How did you know?” “There’s

death all

around you. It shines from you.”

“I didn’t know anyone could see it,” Samuel said. “You know, Lee, I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but

still having form and melody. And my life has not been a full orchestra for a long time

now. A single note only—and that note unchanging sorrow. I’m not alone in my attitude, Lee. It seems to me that too many of us conceive of a life as ending in defeat.”

Lee said, “Maybe

everyone is too rich. I have noticed that there is no dissatisfaction like that of the rich. Feed a man, clothe him, put him in a good house, and he will die of despair.”

“It was your two-word retranslation,


mayest.’ It took me by the throat and shook me. And when the dizziness was over, a path was open, new and

bright. And my life which is ending seems to be going on to an ending wonderful. And my music has a new last melody like a bird song in the night.”

Lee was peering at him’ through the darkness. “That’s what it did to those old men of my family.”

“ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin,’ Lee. That’s it. I do not believe all men are destroyed. I can name you a dozen who were not, and they are the ones the world lives by. It is true of the spirit as it is true of battles—only the winners are remembered. Surely most men are destroyed, but there are others who like pillars of fire guide frightened men

through the darkness. ‘Thou mayest, Thou mayest!’ What glory! It is true that we are weak

and sick and

quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would, millenniums

ago, have

disappeared from the face of the earth. A few remnants of fossilized

jawbone, some

broken teeth in strata of limestone, would be the only mark man would have left of his existence in the world.

But the choice, Lee, the

choice of winning! I had never

understood it


accepted it before. Do you see now why I told Adam tonight? I exercised the choice. Maybe I was wrong, but by telling him I also forced him to live or get off the pot. What is that word, Lee?”

“Timshel,” said Lee. “Will you stop the cart?” “You’ll have a long walk back.”

Lee climbed down.

“Samuel!” he said. “Here am I.” The old

man chuckled. “Liza hates for me to say that.”

“Samuel, you’ve gone beyond me.”

“It’s time, Lee.”

“Good-by, Samuel,” Lee said, and he walked hurriedly

back along the road. He heard the iron tires of the cart grinding on the road. He turned and looked after it, and on the slope he saw old Samuel against the sky, his white

hair shining with starlight.

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