That year the rains had come so gently that the Salinas River did not overflow. A slender stream twisted back and forth in its broad bed of gray sand, and the water was not milky with silt but clear and pleasant. The willows that grow in the river bed were well leafed, and the wild blackberry
thrusting their spiky new shoots along the ground.
It was very warm for March, and the kite wind blew steadily from the south and turned up the silver undersides of the leaves.
Against the perfect cover of vine and bramble and tangled drift sticks, a little
gray brush rabbit sat quietly in the sun, drying his breast fur, wet by the grass dew of his early feeding. The rabbit’s nose crinkled, and his ears slewed around now and then, investigating small sounds that
might possibly be
charged with danger to a brush rabbit. There had been a rhythmic vibration in the
ground audible through the paws, so that ears swung and nose wrinkled, but that had stopped. Then there had been a
branches twenty-five years away and downwind, so that no odor of fear came to the rabbit.
For the last two minutes there had been sounds of interest but not of danger—a snap and then a whistle like that of the wings of a wild
dove. The rabbit stretched out one hind leg lazily in the warm sun. There was a snap and a whistle and a grunting thud on fur. The rabbit sat
perfectly still and his eyes grew large. A bamboo arrow was through his chest, and its iron tip deep in the ground on the other side. The rabbit slumped over on his side and his feet ran and scampered in the air for a moment before he was still.
From the willow two crouching boys crept. They carried four-foot bows, and tufts of arrows stuck their feathers up from the quivers behind their left shoulders. They were dressed in overalls and faded blue shirts, but each boy wore one perfect turkey tailfeather tied with tape against his temple.
cautiously, bending low, self-consciously toeing-in like Indians. The rabbit’s flutter of
death was finished when they bent over to examine their victim.
“Right through the
heart,” said Cal as though it could not be any other way. Aron looked down and said nothing. “I’m going to say you did it,” Cal went on. “I won’t take credit. And I’ll say it was a hard shot.”
“Well, it was,” said Aron.
“Well, I’m telling you.
I’ll give you credit to Lee and to Father.”
“I don’t know as I want
credit—not all of it,” said Aron. “Tell you what. If we get another one we’ll say we each hit one, and if we don’t get any more, why don’t we say we both shot together and we don’t know who hit?” “Don’t
credit?” Cal asked subtly. “Well, not full credit.
We could divide it up.” “After all, it was my arrow,” said Cal.
“No, it wasn’t.” “You
look at the
feathers. See that nick? That’s mine.”
“How did it get in my quiver? I don’t remember any nick.”
“Maybe you don’t
remember. But I’m going to give you credit anyway.” Aron said gratefully,
“No, Cal. I don’t want that. We’ll say we both shot at once.”
“Well, if that’s what you want. But suppose Lee sees it was my arrow?”
“We’ll just say it was in my quiver.”
“You think he’ll believe that? He’ll think you’re lying.”
Aron said helplessly, “If he thinks you shot it, why,
we’ll just let him think that.” “I just wanted you to
know,” said Cal. “Just in case he’d think that.” He drew the arrow through the rabbit so that the white feathers were dark red with heart blood. He put the arrow in his quiver. “You can carry him,” he said magnanimously.
“We ought to start
back,” said Aron. “Maybe Father is back by now.”
Cal said, “We could
cook that old rabbit and have him for our supper and stay out all night.”
“It’s too cold at night, Cal. Don’t you remember how
“It’s not too cold for
me,” said Cal. “I never feel cold.”
“You did this morning.” “No, I didn’t. I was just making fun of you, shivering and chattering like a milk baby. Do you want to call me a liar?”
“No,” said Aron. “I don’t want to fight.” “Afraid to fight?” “No. I just don’t want to.”
“If I was to say you was scared, would you want to call me a liar?”
“Then you’re scared, aren’t you?”
“I guess so.”
Aron wandered slowly away, leaving the rabbit on the ground. His eyes were very wide and he had a beautiful soft mouth. The width between his blue eyes gave him an expression of angelic innocence. His hair
was fine and golden. The sun seemed to light up the top of his head.
He was puzzled—but he was often puzzled. He knew his brother was getting at something, but he didn’t know what. Cal was an enigma to him. He could not follow the reasoning of his brother, and he was always surprised at the tangents it took.
Cal looked more like Adam. His hair was dark brown. He was bigger than his brother, bigger of bone, heavier in the shoulder, and his jaw had the square sternness of Adam’s jaw.
Cal’s eyes were brown and watchful, and sometimes they sparkled as though they were black. But Cal’s hands were very small for the size of the rest of him. The fingers were short and slender, the nails delicate. Cal protected his hands. There were few things that could make him cry, but a cut finger was one of them. He never ventured with his hands, never touched an insect or carried a snake about. And in a fight he
picked up a rock or a stick to fight with.
As Cal watched his
brother walking away from him there was a small sure smile on his lips. He called, “Aron, wait for me!”
When he caught up with his brother he held out the
rabbit. “You can carry it,” he said kindly, putting his arm around
shoulders. “Don’t be mad with me.”
“You always want to fight,” said Aron.
“No, I don’t. I was only making a joke.”
“Sure. Look—you can
carry the rabbit. And we’ll start back now if you want.”
Aron smiled at last. He
was always relieved when his brother let the tension go. The two boys trudged up out of the river bottom and up the crumbling cliff to the level land. Aron’s right trouser leg was well bloodied from the rabbit.
Cal said, “They’ll be surprised we got a rabbit. If Father’s home, let’s give it to him. He likes a rabbit for his supper.”
“All right,” Aron said happily. “Tell you what. We’ll both give it to him and we won’t say which one hit it.”
“All right, if you want
to,” said Cal.
They walked along in silence for a time and then Cal said, “All this is our land
—way to hell over the river.” “It’s Father’s.”
“Yes, but when he dies it’s going to be ours.”
This was a new thought
to Aron. “What do you mean, when he dies?”
“Everybody dies,” said
Cal. “Like Mr. Hamilton. He died.”
“Oh, yes,” Aron said. “Yes, he died.” He couldn’t connect the two—the dead Mr. Hamilton and the live father.
“They put him in a box
and then they dig a hole and put the box in,” said Cal.
“I know that.” Aron
wanted to change the subject, to think of something else.
Cal said, “I know a secret.”
“What is it?” “You’d tell.”
“No, I wouldn’t, if you said not.”
“I don’t know if I ought.”
“Tell me,” Aron begged. “You won’t tell?”
“No, I won’t.”
Cal said, “Where do you think our mother is?” “She’s dead.”
“No, she isn’t.” “She is too.”
“She ran away,” said Cal. “I heard some men talking.”
“They were liars.” “She ran away,” said
Cal. “You won’t tell I told you?”
“I don’t believe it,” said Aron. “Father said she was in Heaven.”
Cal said quietly, “Pretty soon I’m going to run away and find her. I’ll bring her back.”
“Where did the men. say she is?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll find her.”
“She’s in Heaven,” said Aron. “Why would Father tell a lie?” He looked at his brother, begging him silently to agree. Cal didn’t answer him. “Don’t you think she’s in Heaven with the angels?”
Aron insisted. And when Cal still did not answer, “Who were the men who said it?” “Just some men. In the
post office at King City. They didn’t think I could hear. But I got good ears. Lee says I can hear the grass grow.”
Aron said, “What would she want to run away for?” “How
Maybe she didn’t like us.”
Aron inspected this
heresy. “No,” he said. “The men were liars. Father said she’s in Heaven. And you know how he don’t like to
talk about her.” “Maybe that’s because she ran away.”
“No. I asked Lee. Know what Lee said? Lee said, ‘Your mother loved you and she still does.’ And Lee gave me a star to look at. He said maybe that was our mother
and she would love us as long as that light was there. Do you think Lee is a liar?” Through his gathering tears Aron could see his brother’s eyes, hard and reasonable.
There were no tears in Cal’s eyes.
excited. He found another implement, another secret
tool, to use for any purpose he needed. He studied Aron, saw his quivering lips, but he noticed in time the flaring nostrils. Aron would cry, but sometimes, pushed to tears, Aron would fight too. And when Aron cried and fought at the same time he was dangerous. Nothing could hurt him and nothing could stop him. Once Lee had held him in his lap, clasping his still flailing fists to his sides, until after a long time he relaxed. And his nostrils had flared then.
Cal put his new tool
away. He could bring it out anytime, and he knew it was the sharpest weapon he had found. He would inspect it at
his ease and judge just when and how much to use it.
He made his decision almost too late. Aron leaped at him and the limp body of
the rabbit slashed against his face. Cal jumped back and cried, “I was just joking.
Honest, Aron, it was only a joke.”
Aron stopped. Pain and puzzlement were on his face. “I don’t like that joke,” he said, and he sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
Cal came close to him
and hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “I won’t do it any more,” he said.
The boys trudged along silently for a while. The light of day began to withdraw.
Cal looked over his shoulder at a thunderhead sailing blackly over the mountains on the nervous March wind. “Going to storm,” he said. “Going to be a bastard.” Aron said, “Did you really hear those men?”
“Maybe I only thought I
did,” Cal said quickly. “Jesus, look at that cloud!”
Aron turned around to
look at the black monster. It ballooned in great dark rolls above, and beneath it drew a long trailing skirt of rain, and as they looked the cloud rumbled and flashed fire.
Borne on the wind, the cloudburst
hollowly on the fat wet hills
across the valley and moved out over the flat lands. The boys turned and ran for home, and the cloud boomed at their backs
shattered the air into quaking pieces. The cloud caught up with them, and the first stout drops plopped on the ground out of the riven sky. They could smell the sweet odor of ozone. Running, they sniffed the thunder smell.
As they raced across the country road and onto the wheel tracks that led to their own home draw the water struck them. The rain fell in sheets
Instantly they were soaked through,
and their hair
plastered down on their foreheads and streamed into their eyes, and the turkey feathers at their temples bent over with the weight of water.
Now that they were as
wet as they could get the boys stopped running. There was no reason to run for cover.
They looked at each other and laughed for joy. Aron wrung out the rabbit and tossed it in the air and caught it and threw it to Cal. And Cal,
feeling silly, put it around his neck with the head and hind feet under his chin. Both boys leaned over and laughed hysterically. The rain roared on the oak trees in the home draw and the wind disturbed their high dignity.
The twins came in sight of the ranch buildings in time to see Lee, his head through the center hole of a yellow oilskin poncho, leading a strange horse and a flimsy rubber-tired buggy toward the shed. “Somebody’s here,” said Cal. “Will you look at that rig?”
They began to run again, for there was a certain deliciousness about visitors.
Near the steps they slowed down,
around the house, for there was a certain fearsomeness about visitors too. They went in the back way and stood dripping in the kitchen. They heard voices in the living room—their father’s voice and another, a man’s voice.
And then a third voice stiffened their stomachs and rippled a little chill up their spines. It was a woman’s voice. These boys had had very little experience with women. They tiptoed into their own room and stood looking at each other. “Who do you ‘spose it
is?” Cal asked.
An emotion like a light
had burst in Aron. He wanted to shout, “Maybe it’s our mother. Maybe she’s come back.”
And then he
remembered that she was in Heaven and people do not come back from there. He said, “I don’t know. I’m going to put on dry clothes.”
The boys put on dry clean clothes, which were
exact replicas of the sopping clothes they were taking off. They took off the wet turkey feathers and combed their hair back with their fingers. And all the while they could
hear the voices, mostly low pitched, and then the high woman’s voice, and once they froze, listening, for they heard a child’s voice—a girl’s voice—and this was such an excitement that they did not even speak of hearing it.
Silently they edged into
the hall and crept toward the door to the living room. Cal turned the doorknob very, very slowly and lifted it up so that no creak would betray them.
Only the smallest crack
was open when Lee came in the back door, shuffled along the hall, getting out of his poncho, and caught them there. “Lilly boy peek?” he
said in pidgin, and when Cal closed the door and the latch clicked Lee said quickly, “Your father’s home. You’d better go in.”
Aron whispered hoarsely, “Who else
“Just some people going
by. The rain drove them in.” Lee put his hand over Cal’s on the doorknob and turned it and opened the door.
“Boys come long
home,” he said and left them there, exposed in the opening.
Adam cried, “Come in, boys! Come on in!”
The two carried their
heads low and darted glances at the strangers and shuffled their feet. There was a man in city clothes and a woman in the fanciest clothes ever. Her duster and hat and veil lay on a chair beside her, and she seemed to the boys to be clad entirely in black silk and lace. Black lace even climbed up little sticks and hugged her throat. That was enough for one day, but it wasn’t all.
Beside the woman sat a girl, a little younger maybe than the twins, but not much. She wore
sunbonnet with lace around the front. Her dress was flowery, and a little apron with pockets was tied around her middle. Her skirt was turned
back, showing a
petticoat of red knitted yarn with tatting around the edge. The boys could not see her face
sunbonnet, but her hands were folded in her lap, and it was easy to see the little gold seal ring she wore on her third finger.
Neither boy had drawn a
breath and the red rings were beginning to flare in back of their eyes from holding their breath.
“These are my boys,” their father said. “They’re
twins. That’s Aron and this is Caleb. Boys, shake hands with our guests.”
The boys moved
forward, heads down, hands up, in a gesture very like surrender and despair. Their limp fins were pumped by the gentleman and then by the lacy lady. Aron was first, and he turned away from the little girl, but the lady said, “Aren’t you going to say how do to my daughter?”
Aron shuddered and
surrendered his hand in the direction of the girl with the hidden
face. Nothing happened. His lifeless
sausages were not gripped, or wrung,
or squeezed, or
racheted. His hand simply hung in the air in front of her. Aron peeked up through his eyelashes to see what was going on.
Her head was down too,
and she had the advantage of the sunbonnet. Her small right hand with the signet ring on the middle finger was stuck out too, but it made no move toward Aron’s hand.
He stole a glance at the lady. She was smiling, her
lips parted. The room seemed crushed with silence. And then Aron heard a ripping snicker from Cal.
Aron reached out and grabbed
her hand and
pumped it up and down three times. It was as soft as a handful of petals. He felt a pleasure that burned him. He dropped
her hand and
concealed his in his overall pocket. As he backed hastily away he saw Cal step up and shake hands formally and say, “How
do.” Aron had
forgotten to say it, so he said it now, after his brother, and it sounded strange. Adam and his guests laughed.
Adam said, “Mr. and
Mrs. Bacon nearly got caught in the rain.”
“We were lucky to be
lost here,” Mr. Bacon said. “I was looking for the Long ranch.”
should have taken the next left turn off the county road to
continued to the boys, “Mr.
“I don’t know why, but I take the job very seriously,” said Mr. Bacon, and he too addressed the boys. “My daughter’s name is Abra, boys. Isn’t that a funny name?” He used the tone
adults employ with children. He turned to Adam and said in poetic singsong, “ ‘Abra was ready ere I called her name; And though I called another,
Matthew Prior. I won’t say I hadn’t wanted a son—but Abra’s such a comfort. Look up, dear.”
Abra did not move. Her hands were again clasped in her lap. Her father repeated with relish, “ ‘And though I called another, Abra came.’ ”
Aron saw his brother
looking at the little sunbonnet without an ounce of fear. And Aron said hoarsely, “I don’t think Abra’s a funny name.”
“He didn’t mean funny that
explained. “He only meant curious.” And she explained to Adam, “My husband gets the strangest things out of books. Dear, shouldn’t we be going?”
Adam said eagerly, “Oh, don’t go yet, ma’am. Lee is making some tea. It will warm you up.”
“Well, how pleasant!”
Mrs. Bacon said, and she continued, “Children, it isn’t raining any more. Go outside and play.” Her voice had such authority that they filed out— Aron first and Cal second and
In the living room Mr. Bacon crossed his legs. “You have a fine prospect here,” he said. “Is it a sizable piece?”
Adam said, “I have a
good strip. I cross the river to the other side. It’s a good piece.”
“That’s all yours across the county road then?” “Yes, it is. I’m kind of
ashamed to admit it. I’ve let it go badly. I haven’t farmed it at all. Maybe I got too much farming as a child.”
Both Mr. and Mrs.
Bacon were looking at Adam now, and he knew he had to make some explanation for letting his good land run free.
He said, “I guess I’m a lazy man. And my father didn’t help me when he left me enough to get along on without
dropped his eyes but he could feel the relief on the part of the Bacons. It was not laziness if he was a rich man. Only the poor were lazy. Just as only the poor were ignorant. A rich man who didn’t know anything was spoiled or independent. “Who takes care of the boys?” Mrs. Bacon asked.
Adam laughed. “What taking care of they get, and it isn’t much, is Lee’s work.” “Lee?”
Adam became a little irritated with the questioning. “I only have one man,” he said shortly.
“You mean the Chinese we saw?” Mrs. Bacon was shocked.
Adam smiled at her. She had frightened him at first, but now he was moje comfortable. “Lee raised the
boys, and he has taken care of me,” he said.
“But didn’t they ever have a woman’s care?” “No, they didn’t.” “The poor lambs,” she said.
“They’re wild but I
guess they’re healthy,” Adam said. “I guess we’ve all gone wild like the land. But now
Lee is going away. I don’t know what we’ll do.”
Mr. Bacon carefully
cleared the phlegm from his throat so it wouldn’t be run over by his pronouncement. “Have you thought about the education of your sons?” “No—I guess I haven’t thought about it much.” Mrs. Bacon said, “My husband is a believer in education.”
“Education is the key to
the future,” Mr. Bacon said. “What
education?” asked Adam. Mr. Bacon went on, “All
things come to men who know. Yes, I’m a believer in the torch of learning.” He leaned close and his voice became
long as you aren’t going to farm your land, why don’t you rent it and move to the county seat—near our good public schools?”
For just a second Adam thought of saying, “Why don’t you mind your own goddam
instead he asked, “You think that would be a good idea?” “I think I could get you a good reliable tenant,” Mr.
Bacon said. “No reason why you shouldn’t have something coming in from your land if you don’t live on it.”
Lee made a great stir coming in with the tea. He
had heard enough of the tones through the door to be sure Adam was finding them tiresome. Lee was pretty certain they didn’t like tea, and if they did, they weren’t likely to favor the kind he had brewed. And when they drank it with compliments he knew the Bacons had their teeth in something. Lee tried to catch Adam’s eye but could not.
Adam was studying the rug between his feet.
Mrs. Bacon was saying, “My husband has served on
his school board for many years—” but Adam didn’t hear the discussion that followed.
He was thinking of a big globe of the world, suspended and swaying from a limb of one of his oak trees. And for no reason at all that he could make out, his mind leaped to his father, stumping about on his wooden leg, rapping on his leg for attention with a walking stick. Adam could see the stern and military face of his father as he forced his sons through drill and made them carry heavy packs to develop
Through his memory Mrs.
Bacon’s voice droned on. Adam felt the pack loaded with rocks. He saw Charles’ face grinning sardonically— Charles—the mean, fierce eyes,
Suddenly Adam wanted to see Charles. He would take a trip—take
the boys. He slapped his
Mr. Bacon paused in his talk. “I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Adam said. “I just remembered something I’ve neglected to do.”
Both Bacons were
patiently, politely waiting for his
thought, Why not? I’m not running for supervisor. I’m not on the school board. Why not? He said to his guests, “I just remembered that I have forgotten to write to my brother for over ten years.” They shuddered under his statement
Lee had been refilling
the teacups. Adam saw his cheeks puff out and heard his happy snort as he passed to the safety of the hallway. The Bacons
didn’t want to
comment on the incident. They wanted to be alone to discuss it.
Lee anticipated that it would be this way. He
hurried out to harness up and bring the rubber-tired buggy to the front door.
When Abra and Cal and Aron went out, they stood side by side on the small covered
porch, looking at the rain splashing and dripping down from the wide-spreading oak trees. The cloudburst had passed into a distant echoing thunder roll, but it had left a rain determined to go on for a long time.
Aron said, “That lady
told us the rain was stopped.”
Abra answered him
wisely. “She didn’t look. When she’s talking she never looks.”
Cal demanded, “How old are you?”
“Ten, going on eleven,” said Abra.
“Ho!” said Cal. “We’re eleven, going on twelve.”
Abra pushed her
sunbonnet back. It framed her head like a halo. She was pretty, with dark hair in two braids. Her little forehead was round and domed, and her brows were level. One day her nose would be sweet and turned up where now it still was button-form. But two features would be with her always. Her chin was firm and her mouth was as sweet as a flower and very wide and pink. Her hazel eyes were sharp and intelligent and completely
looked straight into the faces
of the boys, straight into their eyes, one after the other, and there was no hint of the shyness she had pretended inside the house.
“I don’t believe you’re twins,” she said. “You don’t look alike.”
“We are too,” said Cal. “We are too,” said Aron. “Some twins don’t look alike,” Cal insisted. “Lots of them don’t,”
Aron said. “Lee told us how it is. If the lady has one egg, the twins look alike. If she has two eggs, they don’t.”
“We’re two eggs,” said Cal.
Abra smiled with
amusement at the myths of these country boys. “Eggs,” she said. “Ho! Eggs.” She didn’t say it loudly or harshly, but Lee’s theory tottered and swayed and then she brought it crashing down. “Which one of you is fried?” she asked. “And which one is poached?”
uneasy glances. It was their first experience with the inexorable logic of women, which is overwhelming even, or perhaps especially, when it is wrong. This was new to them,
Cal said, “Lee is a Chinaman.”
“Oh, well,” said Abra kindly, “why don’t you say
so? Maybe you’re china eggs then, like they put in a nest.” She paused to let her shaft sink in. She saw opposition, struggle, disappear. Abra had taken control. She was the boss.
Aron suggested, “Let’s
go to the old house and play there. It leaks a little but it’s nice.”
They ran under the dripping oaks to the old Sanchez house and plunged in through its open door,
which squeaked restlessly on rusty hinges.
The ‘dobe house had
entered its second decay. The great sala all along the front was half plastered, the line of white halfway around and then stopping, just as the workmen had left it over ten years before. And the deep windows with their rebuilt sashes remained glassless.
The new floor was streaked with water stain, and a clutter of old papers and darkened nail bags with their nails rusted to prickly balls filled the corner of the room.
As the children stood in
the entrance a bat flew from the rear of the house. The gray shape swooped from side to side and disappeared through the doorway.
Abra through the house— opened closets to show wash basins
and toilets and
chandeliers, still crated and waiting to be installed. A smell of mildew and of wet paper was in the air. The three children walked on tiptoe, and they did not speak for fear of the echoes from the walls of the empty house.
Back in the big sala the twins faced their guest. “Do you like it?” Aron asked softly because of the echo. “Yee-es,” she admitted
hesitantly. “Sometimes we play
here,” Cal said boldly. “You can come here and play with us if you like.”
“I live in Salinas,” Abra said in such a tone that they
knew they were dealing with a superior being who hadn’t time for bumpkin pleasures. Abra saw that she had crushed their highest treasure, and while she knew the weaknesses of men she still liked them, and, besides, she was a lady. “Sometimes, when we are driving by, I’ll come and play with you—a little,” she said kindly, and both boys felt grateful to her. “I’ll
rabbit,” said Cal suddenly. “I was going to give it to my father, but you can have it.” “What rabbit?”
“The one we shot today
—right through the heart with an arrow. He hardly even kicked.”
Aron looked at him in outrage. “It was my—”
Cal interrupted, “We
will let you have it to take home. It’s a pretty big one.” Abra said, “What would
I want with a dirty old rabbit all covered with blood?”
Aron said, “I’ll wash
him off and put him in a box and tie him with string, and if you don’t want to eat him,
you can have a funeral when you get time—in Salinas.” “I go to real funerals,”
said Abra. “Went to one yesterday. There was flowers high as this roof.”
“Don’t you want our rabbit?” Aron asked.
Abra looked at his sunny hair, tight-curled now, and at his eyes that seemed near to tears, and she felt the longing and the itching burn in her chest that is the beginning of love. Also, she wanted to touch Aron, and she did. She put her hand on his arm and felt him shiver under her fingers. “If you put it in a box,” she said.
Now that she had got herself
looked around and inspected her conquests. She was well above vanity now that no male principle threatened her. She felt kindly toward these boys. She noticed their thin washed-out clothes patched here and there by Lee. She drew on her fairy tales. “You poor children,” she said, “does your father beat you?” They shook their heads.
They were interested but bewildered.
“Are you very poor?” “How do you mean?”
Cal asked. “Do you sit in the ashes and have to fetch water and faggots?”
“What’s faggots?” Aron asked. She avoided that by continuing. “Poor darlings,” she began, and she seemed to herself to have a little wand in her hand tipped by a twinkling star. “Does your wicked stepmother hate you and want to kill you?”
“We don’t have a
stepmother,” said Cal. “We don’t have any kind,” said Aron. “Our mother’s dead.” His words destroyed the story she was writing but almost immediately supplied her with another. The wand was gone but she wore a big hat with an ostrich plume and
she carried an enormous basket from which a turkey’s feet protruded.
orphans,” she said sweetly. “I’ll be your mother. I’ll hold you and rock you and tell you stories.”
“We’re too big,” said Cal. “We’d overset you.”
Abra looked away from
his brutality. Aron, she saw, was caught up in her story. His eyes were smiling and he seemed almost to be rocking in her arms, and she felt again the tug of love for him. She said pleasantly, “Tell me, did your mother have a nice funeral?”
“We don’t remember,”
said Aron. “We were too little.”
“Well, where is she buried?
You could put
flowers on her grave. We always do that for Grandma and Uncle Albert.”
“We don’t know,” said Aron.
Cal’s eyes had a new interest, a gleaming interest that was close to triumph. He said naively, “I’ll ask our father where it is so we can take flowers.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Abra. “I can make a wreath. I’ll show you how.” She noticed that Aron had not
spoken. “Don’t you want to make a wreath?”
“Yes,” he said.
She had to touch him
again. She patted his shoulder and then touched his cheek. “Your mama will like that,” she said. “Even in Heaven they look down and notice.
My father says they do. He knows a poem about it.”
Aron said, “I’ll go wrap
up the rabbit. I’ve got the box my pants came in.” He ran out of the old house. Cal watched him go. He was smiling.
“What are you laughing at?” Abra asked.
“Oh, nothing,” he said. Cal’s eyes stayed on her. She tried to stare him
down. She was an expert at staring down, but Cal did not look away. At the very first he had felt a shyness, but that was gone now, and the sense of triumph at destroying Abra’s control made him laugh. He knew she preferred his brother, but that was nothing new to him. Nearly everyone preferred Aron with his golden hair and the openness that allowed his affection to plunge like a puppy. Cal’s emotions hid deep in him and peered out, ready to retreat or attack. He was starting to punish Abra for liking his brother, and this was nothing new either. He had done it since he first discovered he could. And
secret punishment had grown to be almost a creative thing with him.
Maybe the difference between the two boys can best be described in this way. If Aron should come upon an anthill in a little clearing in the brush, he would lie on his stomach
and watch the
complications of ant life—he would see some of them bringing food in the ant roads and others carrying the white eggs. He would see how two members of the hill on meeting put their antennas together and talked. For hours he would lie absorbed in the
economy of the ground.
If, on the other hand, Cal came upon the same anthill, he would kick it to pieces and watch while the frantic ants took care of their disaster.
Aron was content to be a part of his world, but Cal must change it.
Cal did not question the fact that people liked his brother better, but he had developed
a means for
making it all right with himself. He planned and waited until one time that admiring
himself, and then something happened and the victim never knew how or why. Out of revenge Cal extracted a fluid of power, and out of power, joy. It was the strongest, purest emotion he knew. Far from disliking Aron, he loved him because he was usually the cause for Cal’s feelings of triumph. He had forgotten—if he had ever known—that he punished because he wished he could be loved as Aron was loved. It had gone so far that he preferred what he had to what Aron had.
Abra had started a
process in Cal by touching Aron and by the softness of her voice toward him. Cal’s reaction was automatic. His brain probed for a weakness in Abra, and so clever was he that he found one almost at once in her words. Some children want to be babies and some want to be adults.
Few are content with their age. Abra wanted to be an adult. She used adult words and simulated, insofar as she was able, adult attitudes and emotions.
She had left
babyhood far behind, and she was not capable yet of being one of the grownups she
admired. Cal sensed this, and it gave him the instrument to knock down her anthill.
He knew about how long it would take his brother to
find the box. He could see in his mind what would happen. Aron would try to wash the blood off the rabbit, and this would take time. Finding string would take more time, and the careful tying of the bow knots still more time.
And meanwhile Cal knew he was beginning to win. He felt Abra’s certainty wavering and he knew that he could prod it further.
Abra looked away from
him at last and said, “What do you stare at a person for?” Cal looked at her feet
and slowly raised his eyes, going over her as coldly as if she were a chair. This, he knew, could make even an adult nervous.
Abra couldn’t stand it. She said, “See anything green?”
Cal asked, “Do you go to school?”
“Of course I do.” “What grade?” “High fifth.”
“How old are you?” “Going on eleven.” Cal laughed. “What’s
that?” she demanded. He didn’t answer her. “Come on, tell me! What’s wrong with
that?” Still no answer. “You think you’re mighty smart,” she said, and when he continued to laugh at her she said uneasily, “I wonder what’s taking your brother so long.
Look, the rain’s
Cal said, “I guess he’s looking around for it.” “You mean, for the rabbit?”
“Oh, no. He’s got that all right—it’s dead. But maybe he can’t catch the other. It gets away.”
“Catch what? What gets away?”
“He wouldn’t want me
to tell,” said Cal. “He wants it to be a surprise. He caught it last Friday. It bit him too.” “Whatever
talking about?” “You’ll see,” said Cal,
“when you open the box. I bet he tells you not to open it right off.” This was not a guess. Cal knew his brother.
Abra knew she was
losing not only the battle but the whole war. She began to hate this boy. In her mind she went over the deadly retorts she knew and gave them all up in helplessness, feeling they would have no effect.
She retired into silence. She walked out of the door and
looked toward the house where her parents were. “I think I’ll go back,” she said.
“Wait,” said Cal.
She turned as he came
up with her. “What do you want?” she asked coldly. “Don’t be mad with
me,” he said. “You don’t know what goes on here. You should see my brother’s back.”
His change of pace bewildered her. He never let her get set in an attitude, and he had properly read her interest
situations. His voice was low and secret. She lowered her
voice to match his. “What do you mean?
What’s wrong with his back?”
“All scars,” said Cal. “It’s the Chinaman.”
She shivered and tensed with interest. “What does he do? Does he beat him?” “Worse than that,” said
“Why don’t you tell your father?”
“We don’t dare. Do you know what would happen if we told?”
He shook his head. “No”—he seemed to think
carefully—“I don’t even dare tell you.”
At that moment Lee
came from the shed leading the Bacons’ horse hitched to the high spindly rig with rubber tires. Mr. and Mrs.
Bacon came out of the house and automatically they all looked up at the sky. Cal said, “I can’t tell you now. The Chinaman would know if I told.”
Mrs. Bacon called,
“Abra! Hurry! We’re going.” Lee held the restive horse while Mrs. Bacon was helped up into the rig.
around the house, carrying a cardboard box intricately tied with string in fancy bow knots. He thrust it at Abra. “Here,” he said. “Don’t untie it until you get home.”
Cal saw revulsion on Abra’s
face. Her hands
shrank away from the box. “Take it, dear,” her
father said. “Hurry, we’re very late.” He thrust the box into her hands.
Cal stepped close to her.
“I want to whisper,” he said. He put his mouth to her ear. “You’ve wet your pants,” he said. She blushed and pulled
the sunbonnet up over her head. Mrs. Bacon picked her up under the arms and passed her into the buggy.
Lee and Adam and the
twins watched the horse pick up a fine trot.
Before the first turn
Abra’s hand came up and the box went sailing backward into the road. Cal watched his brother’s face and saw misery come into Aron’s eyes. When Adam had gone back into the house and Lee was moving out with a pan of grain to feed the chickens, Cal put his arm around
shoulders and hugged him reassuringly.
“I wanted to marry her,” Aron said. “I put a letter in the box, asking her.” “Don’t be sad,” said Cal.
“I’m going to let you use my rifle.”
Aron’s head jerked
around. “You haven’t got a rifle.”
“Haven’t I?” Cal said. “Haven’t I though?”