Chapter no 31

East of Eden

Adam brooded around the house all morning, and at noon he went to find Lee, who was spading the dark

composted earth

of his

vegetable garden and planting his spring vegetables, carrots and beets, turnips, peas, and string beans, rutabaga and kale. The rows were straight planted

under a

tight-stretched string, and the pegs at the row ends carried the

seed package to identify the row. On the edge of the garden in a cold frame the tomato and bell pepper and cabbage sets were nearly ready

for transplanting,

waiting only for the passing of the frost danger.

Adam said, “I guess I was stupid.”

Lee leaned on


spading fork and regarded him quietly.

“When are you going?” he asked.

“I thought I would catch

the two-forty. Then I can get the eight o’clock back.” “You could put it in a

letter, you know,” said Lee. “I’ve thought of that.

Would you write a letter?” “No. You’re right. I’m

the stupid one there. No letters.”

“I have to go,” said Adam. “I thought in all

directions and always a leash snapped me back.”

Lee said, “You can be unhonest in many ways, but not in that way. Well, good luck. I’ll be interested to hear what she says and does.” “I’ll take the rig,” said Adam. “I’ll leave it at the stable in King City. I’m nervous about driving the Ford alone.”

It was four-fifteen when Adam climbed the rickety steps and knocked on the weather-beaten

door of

Kate’s place. A new man

opened the door, a square-faced Finn, dressed in shirt

and trousers; red


armbands held up his full sleeves.

He left Adam

standing on the porch and in a moment came back and led him to the dining room.

It was a large

undecorated room, the walls and woodwork painted white. A long square table filled the center of the room, and on the white oilcloth cover the places were set—plates, cups

and saucers, and the cups upside down in the saucers.

Kate sat at the head of the table with an account

book open before her. Her dress was severe. She wore a green eyeshade, and she rolled

a yellow pencil

restlessly in her fingers. She looked coldly at Adam as he stood in the doorway. “What do you want

now?” she asked.

The Finn stood behind Adam.

Adam did not reply. He walked to the table and laid the letter in front of her on top of the account book.

“What’s this?” she

asked, and without waiting for a reply she read the letter quickly. “Go out and close the door,” she told the Finn.

Adam sat at the table beside her. He pushed the

dishes aside to make a place for his hat.

When the door was

closed Kate said, “Is this a joke? No, you haven’t got a joke in you.” She considered. “Your brother might be joking. You sure he’s dead?” “All I have is the letter,”

said Adam.

“What do you want me to do about it?”


shrugged his shoulders.

Kate said, “If you want

me to sign anything, you’re wasting your time. What do you want?”

Adam drew his finger slowly around his black ribbon hatband. “Why don’t you write down the name of

the firm and get in touch with them yourself?”

“What have you told them about me?” “Nothing,” said Adam.

“I wrote to Charles and said you were living in another town, nothing more. He was dead when the letter got there. The letter went to the lawyers. It tells about it.”

“The one who wrote the postscript seems to be a friend of yours. What have you written him?”

“I haven’t answered the letter yet.”

“What do you intend to say when you answer it?” “The same thing—that you live in another town.” “You can’t say we’ve been divorced. We haven’t been.”

“I don’t intend to.” “Do you want to know

how much it will take to buy me off? I’ll take forty-five thousand in cash.”


“What do you mean— no? You can’t bargain.” “I’m

not bargaining.

You have the letter, you know as much as I do. Do what you want.”

“What makes you so cocky?”

“I feel safe.”

She peered at him from under the green transparent eyeshade. Little curls of her hair lay on the bill like vines on a green roof. “Adam, you’re a fool. If you had kept your mouth shut nobody

would ever have known I was alive.”

“I know that.”

“You know it? Did you think I might be afraid to claim the money? You’re a damn fool if you thought


Adam said patiently, “I don’t care what you do.” She smiled cynically at him.

“You don’t, huh?

Suppose I should tell you that there’s a permanent order in the sheriffs office, left there by the old sheriff, that if I ever use your name or admit I’m your wife I’ll get a floater out of the county and out of the state. Does that tempt you?”

“Tempt me to do what?” “To get me floated and take all the money.”

“I brought you the

letter,” Adam said patiently.

“I want to know why.” Adam said, “I’m not interested in what you think or in what you think of me.

Charles left you the money in his will. He didn’t put any strings on it. I haven’t seen the will, but he wanted you to have the money.”

“You’re playing a close game with fifty thousand dollars,”

she said, “and

you’re not going to get away with it. I don’t know what the trick is, but I’m going to find out.” And then she said, “What am I thinking about?

You’re not smart. Who’s advising you?”

“No one.” “How about


Chinaman? He’s smart.” “He gave me no advice.” Adam was interested in his own

complete lack


emotion. He didn’t really feel that he was here at all. When he glanced at her he surprised an emotion on her face he had never seen before. Kate was afraid—she was afraid of him. But why?

She controlled her face

and whipped the fear from it. “You’re just doing it because you’re honest, is that it?

You’re just too sugar sweet to live.”

“I hadn’t thought of it,” Adam said. “It’s your money and I’m not a thief. It doesn’t matter to me what you think about it.”

Kate pushed the

eyeshade back on her head. “You want me to think you’re just dropping this money in my lap. Well, I’ll find out what you’re up to. Don’t think I won’t take care of myself. Did you think I’d take such a stupid bait?” “Where do you get your mail?” he asked patiently. “What’s that to you?”

“I’ll write the lawyers

where to get in touch with you.”

“Don’t you do it!” she

said. She put the letter in the account book and closed the cover. “I’ll keep this. I’ll get legal advice. Don’t think I won’t. You can drop the innocence now.”

“You do that,” Adam said. “I want you to have

what is yours. Charles willed you the money. It isn’t mine.” “I’ll find the trick. I’ll

find it.”

Adam said, “I guess you can’t understand it. I don’t

much care. There are so many things I don’t understand. I don’t understand how you could shoot me and desert your sons. I don’t understand

how you or anyone could live like this.” He waved his hand to indicate the house.

“Who asked you to understand?”

Adam stood up and took his hat from the table. “I guess that’s all,” he said. “Good-by.”

He walked

toward the door. She called after him,

“You’re changed, Mr. Mouse. Have you got a woman at last?” Adam stopped and slowly turned and his eyes were thoughtful. “I hadn’t considered before,” he said, and he moved toward her until he towered over her and she had to tilt back her head

to look into his face. “I said I didn’t understand about you,” he said slowly. “Just now it came to me what you don’t understand.”

“What don’t I

understand, Mr. Mouse?” “You know about the ugliness in people. You showed me the pictures. You use all the sad, weak parts of a man, and God knows he has them.”


Adam went on,

astonished at


own thoughts, “But you—yes,

that’s right—you don’t know about the rest. You don’t believe I brought you the letter because I don’t want your money. You don’t believe I loved you. And the men who come to you here with their ugliness, the men in the pictures—you don’t believe those men could have goodness and beauty in them. You see only one side, and you think—more than that, you’re sure—that’s all there is.”

She cackled at him derisively. “In sticks and stones. What a sweet dreamer

is Mr. Mouse! Give me a sermon, Mr. Mouse.” “No. I won’t because I

seem to know that there’s a part of you missing. Some men can’t see the color green, but they may never know they can’t. I think you are only a part of a human. I can’t do anything about that. But I wonder whether you ever feel that something invisible is all around you. It would be horrible if you knew it was there and couldn’t see it or feel it. That would be horrible.”

Kate pushed back her

chair and stood up. Her fists were clenched at her sides and hiding in the folds of her skirt. She tried to prevent the

shrillness that crept into her voice.

“Our Mouse is


philosopher,” she said. “But our Mouse is no better at that than he is at other things. Did you

ever hear of

hallucinations? If there are things I can’t see, don’t you think it’s possible that they are dreams manufactured in your own sick mind?”

“No, I don’t,” said

Adam. “No, I don’t. And I don’t think you do either.” He turned and went out and

closed the door behind him.

Kate sat down and stared at the closed door. She was not aware that her fists beat

softly on the White oilcloth. But she did know that the square

white door was

distorted by tears and that her body shook with something that felt like rage and also felt like sorrow.

When Adam left Kate’s place he had over two hours to wait for the train back to King City. On an impulse he turned off Main Street and walked up Central Avenue to number 130, the high white house of

Ernest Steinbeck. It was an immaculate

and friendly

house, grand enough but not pretentious, and it sat inside its white fence, surrounded by its clipped lawn, and roses and

catoneasters lapped

against its white walls.

Adam walked up the

wide veranda steps and rang the bell. Olive came to the door and opened it a little, while Mary and John peeked around the edges of her.

Adam took off his hat. “You don’t know me. I’m

Adam Trask. Your father was a friend of mine. I thought I’d

like to pay my respects to Mrs. Hamilton. She helped me with the twins.”

“Why, of course,” Olive said and swung the wide doors open. “We’ve heard about you. Just a moment. You see, we’ve made a kind of retreat for Mother.”

She knocked on a door off the wide front hall and called, “Mother! There’s a friend to see you.”

She opened the door and showed

Adam into the

pleasant room where Liza lived. “You’ll have to excuse me,” she said to Adam. “Catrina’s frying chicken and

I have to watch her. John! Mary! Come along. Come along.”

Liza seemed smaller

than ever. She sat in a wicker rocking chair and she was old and old. Her dress was a full wide-skirted black alpaca, and at her throat she wore a pin which spelled “Mother” in golden script.

The pleasant little bed-sitting room was crowded with photographs, bottles of

toilet water, lace pincushions, brushes and combs, and the

china and silver bureau-knacks of many birthdays and Christmases.

On the wall hung a huge tinted photograph of Samuel, which had captured a cold

and aloof dignity, a scrubbed and

dressed remoteness,

which did not belong to him living. There was no twinkle in the picture of him, nor any of his inspective joyousness. The picture hung in a heavy gold frame, and to the consternation of all children its eyes followed a child about the room.

On a wicker table beside Liza was the cage of Polly parrot. Tom had bought the parrot from a sailor. He was

an old bird, reputed to be fifty years old, and he had lived a ribald life and acquired the vigorous speech of a ship’s fo’c’sle. Try as she would,

Liza could not make him substitute psalms for the picturesque vocabulary of his youth.

Polly cocked his head sideways, inspecting Adam, and scratched the feathers at the base of his beak with a careful foreclaw. “Come off it, you bastard,” said Polly unemotionally.

Liza frowned at him. “Polly,” she said sternly, “that’s not polite.” “Bloody bastard!” Polly observed.

Liza ignored the

vulgarity. She held out her tiny hand. “Mr. Trask,” she said, “I’m glad to see you. Sit

down, won’t you?”

“I was passing by, and I wanted

to offer my


“We got your flowers.” And she remembered, too, every bouquet after all this time. Adam had sent a fine pillow of everlastings.

“It must be hard to rearrange your life.” Liza’s eyes brimmed over and she snapped her little mouth shut on her weakness.

Adam said, “Maybe I shouldn’t bring up your hurt, but I miss him.”

Liza turned her head

away. “How is everything down your way?” she asked. “Good this year. Lots of rainfall. The feed’s deep already.”

“Tom wrote me,” she said.

“Button up,” said the parrot, and Liza scowled at

him as she had at her growing children when they were mutinous.

“What brings you up to Salinas, Mr. Trask?” she asked.

“Why, some business.”

He sat down in a wicker chair and it cricked under his weight. “I’m thinking of moving up here. Thought it might be better for my boys. They get lonely on the


“We never got lonely on the ranch,” she said harshly. “I thought maybe the

schools would be better here. My twins could have the advantages.”

“My daughter Olive taught

at Peachtree and

Pleyto and the Big Sur.” Her tone made it clear that there were no better schools than those. Adam began to feel a warm admiration for her iron gallantry.

“Well, I

was just

thinking about it,” he said. “Children raised in the country do better.” It was the law, and she could prove it by her own boys. Then she centered closely on him. “Are you looking for a house in Salinas?”

“Well, yes, I guess I am.”

“Go see my daughter Dessie,” she said. “Dessie wants to move back to the ranch with Tom. She’s got a nice little house up the street next to Reynaud’s Bakery.” “I’ll certainly do that,”

said Adam. “I’ll go now. I’m glad to see you doing so well.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m comfortable.” Adam

was moving toward the door when she said, “Mr. Trask, do you ever see my son Tom?” “Well, no, I don’t. You

see, I haven’t been off the ranch.”

“I wish you would go and see him,” she said

quickly. “I think he’s lonely.”

She stopped as though

horrified at this breaking over.

“I will. I surely will.

Good-by, ma’am.”

As he closed the door he heard the parrot say, “Button up, you bloody bastard!” And

Liza, “Polly, if you don’t watch your language, I’ll thrash you.”

Adam let himself out of

the house and walked up the evening street toward Main. Next to Reynaud’s French Bakery he saw Dessie’s house set back in its little garden. The yard was so massed with tall privets that he couldn’t see much of the house. A neatly painted sign was screwed to the front gate. It read: Dessie Hamilton, Dressmaker.

The San Francisco Chop House was on the corner of Main and Central and its windows

were on


streets. Adam went in to get some dinner. Will Hamilton sat at the corner table, devouring a rib steak. “Come and sit with me,” he called to Adam. “Up on business?” “Yes,” said Adam. “I

went to pay a call on your mother.”

Will laid down his fork.

“I’m just up here for an hour. I didn’t go to see her because it gets her excited. And my sister Olive would tear the house down getting a special dinner for me. I just didn’t want

to disturb them.

Besides, I have to go right

back. Order a rib steak. They’ve got good ones. How is Mother?”

“She’s got great

courage,” said Adam. “I find I admire her more all the time.”

“That she has. How she kept her good sense with all of us and with my father, I don’t know.”

“Rib steak, medium,” said Adam to the waiter. “Potatoes?”

“No—yes, french fried.

Your mother is worried about Tom. Is he all right?”

Will cut off the edging of fat from his steak and

pushed it to the side of his

plate. “She’s got reason to worry,”

he said.

“Something’s the matter with Tom. He’s moping around like a monument.”

“I guess he depended on Samuel.”

“Too much,” said Will.

“Far too much. He can’t seem to come out of it. In some ways Tom is a great big baby.”

“I’ll go and see him.

Your mother says Dessie is going to move back to the ranch.”

Will laid his knife and

fork down on the tablecloth and stared at Adam. “She can’t do it,” he said. “I won’t

let her do it.” “Why not?”

Will covered up. “Well,” he said, “she’s got a nice

business here. Makes a good living. It would be a shame to throw it away.” He picked up his knife and fork, cut off a piece of the fat, and put it in his mouth.

“I’m catching the eight o’clock home,” Adam said. “So am I,” said Will. He didn’t want to talk any more

You'll Also Like