Chapter no 29

East of Eden

After his first letter to his brother in over ten years was mailed

Adam became

impatient for an answer. He forgot how much time had elapsed. Before the letter got as far as San Francisco he was asking aloud in Lee’s

hearing, “I wonder why he doesn’t answer. Maybe he’s mad at me for not writing. But he didn’t write either. No

—he didn’t know where to write. Maybe he’s moved away.”

Lee answered, “It’s only been gone a few days. Give it time.”

“I wonder whether he

would really come out here?” Adam asked himself, and he wondered whether he wanted Charles. Now that the letter was gone, Adam was afraid Charles might accept. He was like a restless child whose fingers stray to every loose article. He interfered with the twins,



innumerable questions about school.

“Well, what did you learn today?” “Nothing!”

“Oh, come! You must

have learned something. Did you read?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What did you read?” “That old one about the grasshopper and the ant.” “Well,

that’s interesting.”

“There’s one about an eagle carries a baby away.” “Yes, I remember that

one. I forget what happens.” “We aren’t to it yet. We

saw the pictures.”

The boys were

disgusted. During one of Adam’s moments of fatherly bungling Cal borrowed his pocketknife, hoping he would forget to ask for it back. But the sap was beginning to run freely in the willows. The bark would slip easily from a twig. Adam got his knife back to teach the boys to make willow whistles, a thing Lee had taught them three years before. To make it worse, Adam had forgotten how to make the cut. He couldn’t get a peep out of his whistles.

At noon one day Will Hamilton came roaring and

bumping up the road in a new Ford. The engine raced in its low gear, and the high top swayed like a storm-driven ship. The brass radiator and the Prestolite tank on the running board were blinding with brass polish.

Will pulled up the brake lever, turned the switch straight down, and sat back in the leather seat. The car backfired

several times

without ignition because it was overheated.

“Here she is!” Will called

with a false

enthusiasm. He hated Fords with a deadly hatred, but they were

daily building his fortune.

Adam and Lee hung

over the exposed insides of the car while Will Hamilton, puffing under the burden of his new fat, explained the workings of a mechanism he did not understand himself. It is hard now to imagine the difficulty of learning to start, drive, and maintain an

automobile. Not only was the whole process complicated, but one had to start from scratch.



breathe in the theory, habits, and idiosyncrasies of the internal combustion engine in their cradles, but then you started with the blank belief that it would not run at all, and sometimes you were right. Also, to start the engine of a modern car you do just two things, turn a key and touch the starter. Everything else is automatic. The process used to be more complicated. It required not only a good memory, a strong arm, an angelic temper, and a blind hope, but also a certain amount of practice of magic, so that a man about to turn the crank of a Model T might be seen to spit on the ground

and whisper a spell.

Will Hamilton explained the car and went back and explained

it again.


customers were wide-eyed, interested

as terriers,

cooperative, and did not interrupt, but as he began for the third time Will saw that he was getting no place. “Tell you what!” he said brightly. “You see, this isn’t my line. I wanted you to see her. and listen to her before I made delivery. Now, I’ll go back to town and tomorrow I’ll send out this car with an

expert, and he’ll tell you more in a few minutes than I could in a week. But I just wanted you to see her.”

Will had forgotten some

of his own instructions. He cranked for a while and then borrowed a buggy and a horse from Adam and drove to town, but he promised to have a mechanic out the next day.

There was no question of sending the twins to school the next day. They wouldn’t have gone. The Ford stood tall and aloof and dour under the oak tree where Will had stopped it. Its new owners circled it and touched it now and then, the way you touch a

dangerous horse to soothe him.

Lee said, “I wonder whether I’ll ever get used to it.”

“Of course you will,”

Adam said without

conviction. “Why, you’ll be driving all over the county first thing you know.”

“I will try to understand it,” Lee said. “But drive it I will not.”

The boys made little dives in and out, to touch something and leap away. “What’s


do-hickey, Father?”

“Get your hands off that.”

“But what’s it for?”

“I don’t know, but don’t touch it. You don’t know what might happen.” “Didn’t the man tell you?”

“I don’t remember what he said. Now you boys get

away from it or I’ll have to send you to school. Do you hear me, Cal? Don’t open that.”

They had got up and

were ready very early in the morning. By eleven o’clock hysterical nervousness had set in. The mechanic drove up in the buggy in time for the

midday meal. He wore box-toed shoes and Duchess trousers and his wide square

coat came almost to his knees. Beside him in the buggy was a satchel in which were his working clothes and tools. He was nineteen and chewed tobacco, and from his three months in automobile school he had gained a great though weary contempt for human beings. He spat and threw the lines at Lee.

“Put this


away,” he said, “How do you tell which end is the front?” And he climbed down from the rig as an ambassador comes out of a state train. He sneered at the twins and turned coldly to Adam, “I hope I’m in time for dinner,”

he said.

Lee and Adam stared at each

other. They had

forgotten about the noonday meal.

In the house the godling grudgingly accepted cheese and bread and cold meat and pie and coffee and a piece of chocolate cake.

“I’m used to a hot

dinner,” he said. “You better keep those kids away if you want any car left.” After a leisurely meal and a short rest on the porch the mechanic took his satchel into Adam’s bedroom. In a few minutes he emerged, dressed in striped

overalls and a white cap which had “Ford” printed on the front of its crown. “Well,” he said. “Done

any studying?” “Studying?” Adam said. “Ain’t you even read the

litature in the book under the seat?”

“I didn’t know it was there,” said Adam. “Oh, Lord,” said the

young man disgustedly. With a courageous gathering of his moral forces he moved with decision toward the car. “Might as well get started,” he said. “God knows how long it’s going to take if you ain’t studied.”

Adam said,


Hamilton couldn’t start it last night.”

“He always tries to start

it on the magneto,” said the sage. “All right! All right, come

along. Know the

principles of

a internal

combustion engine?” “No,” said Adam. “Oh, Jesus Christ!” He

lifted the tin flaps. “This-here is a internal combustion engine,” he said.

Lee said quietly, “So young to be so erudite.”

The boy swung around toward him, scowling. “What did you say?” he demanded, and he asked Adam, “What did the Chink say?”

Lee spread his hands and smiled blandly. “Say velly smaht fella,” he observed quietly. “Mebbe go college. Velly wise.”

“Just call me Joe!” the

boy said for no reason at all, and he added, “College! What do them fellas know? Can they set a timer, huh? Can they file a point? College!”

And he spat a


disparaging comment on the

ground. The twins regarded him with admiration, and Cal collected spit on the back of his tongue to practice.

Adam said, “Lee was admiring your grasp of the subject.”

The truculence went out

of the boy and a magnanimity took its place. “Just call me Joe,” he said. “I ought to know it. Went to automobile school in Chicago. That’s a real school—not like no college.” And he said, “My old man says you take a good Chink, I mean a good one— why, he’s about as good as anybody. They’re honest.” “But not the bad ones,”

said Lee. “Hell

no! Not no

highbinders nor nothing like that. But good Chinks.”

“I hope I may be included in that group?” “You look like a good Chink to me. Just call me Joe.”

Adam was puzzled at the conversation, but the twins weren’t.

Cal said

experimentally to Aron, “Jus’ call me Joe,” and Aron moved his lips, trying out, “Jus’ call me Joe.”

The mechanic became professional again but his tone was kinder. An amused

friendliness took the place of

his former contempt. “This-here,” he said, “is a internal combustion engine.” They

looked down at the ugly lump of iron with a certain awe.

Now the boy went on so rapidly that the words ran together into a great song of the

new era.


through the explosion of gases in a enclosed space. Power of explosion is exerted on

piston and through

connecting rod and crankshaft through transmission thence to rear wheels. Got that?”

They nodded blankly, afraid to stop the flow. “They’s two kinds, two cycle and four cycle. This-here is four cycle. Got that?”

Again they nodded. The twins, looking up into his face with adoration, nodded. “That’s interesting,” said Adam.

Joe went on hurriedly, “Main difference of a Ford automobile from other kinds is its planetary transmission

which operates on a rev-reva-lu-shun-ary principle.” He pulled up for a moment, his

face showing strain. And when

his four


nodded again he cautioned

them, “Don’t get the idea you know it all. The planetary

system is, don’t forget, rev-a-lu-shun-ary. You better study up on it in the book. Now, if

you got all that we’ll go on to Operation

of the

Automobile.” He said this in boldface type, capital letters. He was obviously glad to be done with the first part of his lecture, but he was no gladder than his listeners. The strain of

concentration was

beginning to tell on them, and it was not made any better by the fact that they had not understood one single word. “Come around here,”

said the boy. “Now you see that-there? That’s the ignition key. When you turn that-there you’re ready to go ahead.

Now, you push this do-hickey to the left. That puts her on battery—see, where it says Bat. That means battery.” They craned their necks into the car. The twins were standing on the running board.

“No—wait. I got ahead

of myself. First you got to retard the spark and advance the gas, else she’ll kick your goddam arm off. This-here— see it?—this-here’s the spark. You push it up—get it?— up. Clear up. And this-here’s the gas—you push her down.

Now I’m going to explain it

and then I’m going to do it. I want you to pay attention.

You kids get off the car. You’re in my light. Get down, goddam it.” The boys reluctantly

climbed down

from the running board; only their eyes looked over the door.

He took a deep breath. “Now you ready? Spark

retarded, gas advanced. Spark up, gas down. Now switch to battery—left,


left.” A buzzing like that of a gigantic bee sounded. “Hear that? That’s the contact in one of the coil boxes. If you don’t get that, you got to adjust the

points or maybe file them.”

He noticed a

look of

consternation on


face. “You can study up on that in the book,” he said kindly.

He moved to the front of

the car. “Now this-here is the crank and—see this little wire sticking out of the radiator?— that’s the choke. Now watch careful while I show you.

You grab the crank like this and push till she catches. See how my thumb is turned down? If I grabbed her the

other way with my thumb around her, and she was to kick, why, she’d knock my thumb off. Got it?”

He didn’t look up but he knew they were nodding. “Now,” he said, “look careful. I push in and bring her

up until I


compression, and then, why, I pull out this wire and I bring her around careful to suck gas in. Hear that sucking sound? That’s choke. But don’t pull her too much or you’ll flood her. Now, I let go the wire and I give her a hell of spin, and as soon as she catches I

run around and advance the spark and retard the gas and I reach over and throw the switch quick over to magneto

—see where it says Mag?— and there you are.”

His listeners were limp.

After all this they had just got the engine started.

The boy kept at them. “I want you to say after me now so you learn it. Spark up— gas down.”

They repeated in chorus, “Spark up—gas down.” “Switch to Bat.” “Switch to Bat.”

“Crank to compression, thumb down.”

“Crank to compression, thumb down.”

“Easy over—choke out.”

“Easy over—choke out.” “Spin her.”

“Spin her.”

“Spark down—gas up.” “Spark down—gas up.” “Switch to Mag.” “Switch to Mag.” “Now, we’ll go over her again. Just call me Joe.” “Just call you Joe.” “Not that. Spark up— gas down.”

A kind of weariness

settled on Adam as they went over the litany for the fourth time. The process seemed silly to him. He was relieved when a short time later Will Hamilton drove up in his low sporty red car. The boy looked at the approaching vehicle.

“That-there’s got

sixteen valves,” he said in a reverent tone. “Special job.”

Will leaned out of his car. “How’s it going?” he asked.

“Just fine,” said the mechanic. “They catch on quick.”

“Look, Roy, I’ve got to take you in. The new hearse

knocked out a bearing. You’ll have to work late to get it ready for Mrs. Hawks at eleven tomorrow.”

Roy snapped to efficient attention. “I’ll get my clos’,” he said and ran for the house. As he tore back with his satchel Cal stood in his way. “Hey,” Cal said, “I

thought your name was Joe.” “How do you mean,


“You told us to call you Joe.

Mr. Hamilton says

you’re Roy.”

Roy laughed and jumped into the roadster. “Know why I say call me Joe?”

“No. Why?” “Because my name is

Roy.” In the midst of his laughter he stopped and said sternly to Adam, “You get that book under the seat and you study up. Hear me?”

“I will,” said Adam.

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