Chapter no 33

East of Eden

The green lasted on the hills far into June before the grass turned yellow. The heads of the wild oats were so heavy with seed that they hung over on their stalks. The little springs trickled on late in the summer. The range cattle staggered under their fat and their hides shone with health. It was a year when the people of the Salinas Valley forgot the dry years. Farmers bought more land than they could afford and figured their profits on the covers of their checkbooks.

Tom Hamilton labored

like a giant, not only with his strong arms and rough hands but also with his heart and

spirit. The anvil rang in the forge again. He painted the old

house white and

whitewashed the sheds. He went to King City and studied a flush toilet and then built one of craftily bent tin and carved wood. Because the water came so slowly from the spring, he put a redwood tank beside the house and pumped the water up to it with a handmade windmill so cleverly made that it turned in the slightest wind. And he made metal and wood models of two ideas to be sent to the patent office in the fall.

That was not all—he

labored with humor and good spirits. Dessie had to rise very early to get in her hand at the housework before Tom had it all done. She watched his great red happiness, and it was not light as Samuel’s happiness was light. It did not rise out of his roots and come floating

up. He was

manufacturing happiness as cleverly as he knew how, molding it and shaping it.

Dessie, who had more friends than anyone in the whole

valley, had no

confidants. When her trouble had come upon her she had not talked about it. And the pains were a secret in herself.

When Tom found her rigid and tight from the grabbing pain and cried in alarm, “Dessie, what’s the

matter?” she controlled her face and said, “A little crick, that’s all. Just a little crick.

I’m all right now.” And in a moment they were laughing.

They laughed a great

deal, as though to reassure themselves.

Only when

Dessie went to her bed did her loss fall on her, bleak and unendurable. And Tom lay in the dark of his room, puzzled

as a child. He could hear his heart beating and rasping a little in its beat. His mind fell away from thought and clung for safety to little plans, designs, machines.

Sometimes in

the summer evenings they

walked up the hill to watch the afterglow clinging to the tops of the western mountains and to feel the breeze drawn into the valley by the rising day-heated air. Usually they stood silently for a while and breathed

in peacefulness.

Since both were shy they never

talked about

themselves. Neither knew about the other at all.

It was startling to both of them when Dessie said one evening on the hill, “Tom, why don’t you get married?” He looked quickly at her and away. He said, “Who’d have me?”

“Is that a joke or do you really mean it?” “Who’d have me?” he

said again. “Who’d want a thing like me?”

“It sounds to me as

though you really mean it.”

Then she

violated their

unstated code. “Have you been in love with someone?” “No,” he said shortly.

“I wish I knew,” she said as

though he

had not


Tom did not speak again

as they walked down the hill. But on the porch he said suddenly,

“You’re lonely

here. You don’t want to stay.” He waited for a moment. “Answer me. Isn’t that true?” “I want to stay here

more than I want to stay anyplace else.” She asked, “Do you ever go to women?” “Yes,” he said.

“Is it any good to you?” “Not much.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

In silence they went back to the house. Tom

lighted the lamp in the old living room. The horsehair sofa he had rebuilt raised its gooseneck against the wall, and the green carpet had tracks worn light between the doors.

Tom sat down by the

round center table. Dessie sat on the sofa, and she could see that he was still embarrassed

from his last admission. She thought, How pure he is, how unfit for a world that even she knew more about than he did. A dragon killer, he was, a rescuer of damsels, and his small sins seemed so great to him that he felt unfit and unseemly. She wished her father were here. Her father had felt greatness in Tom.

Perhaps he would know now how to release it out of its darkness and let it fly free.

She took another tack to see whether she could raise

some spark in him. “As long as

we’re talking about

ourselves, have you ever

thought that our whole world is the valley and a few trips to San Francisco, and have you ever been farther south than San Luis Obispo? I never have.”

“Neither have I,” said Tom.

“Well, isn’t that silly?” “Lots

of people

haven’t,” he said. “But it’s not a law. We

could go to Paris and to Rome or to Jerusalem. I would dearly love to see the Colosseum.”

He watched her

suspiciously, expecting some

kind of joke. “How could we?” he asked. “That takes a lot of money.”

“I don’t think it does,”

she said. “We wouldn’t have to stay in fancy places. We could take the cheapest boats and the lowest class. That’s how our father came here from Ireland. And we could go to Ireland.”

Still he watched her, but

a burning was beginning in his eyes.

Dessie went on, “We could take a year for work, save every penny. I can get some sewing to do in King

City. Will would help us. And next summer you could sell all the stock and we could go. There’s no law forbids it.”

Tom got up and went outside. He looked up at the summer stars, at blue Venus and red Mars. His hands flexed at his sides, closed to fists and opened. Then he turned and went back into the

house. Dessie had not moved. “Do you want to go,


“More than anything in the world.”

“Then we will go!” “Do you want to go?” “More than anything in

the world,” he said, and then, “Egypt—have you given a thought to Egypt?” “Athens,” she said. “Constantinople!” “Bethlehem!”

“Yes, Bethlehem,” said

he suddenly, “Go to bed. We’ve got a year of work—a year. Get some rest. I’m going to borrow money from Will to buy a hundred shoats.”

“What will you feed them?”

“Acorns,” said Tom. “I’ll make a machine to gather acorns.”

After he had gone to his room she could hear him knocking around and talking softly to himself. Dessie looked out her window at the starlit night and she was glad. But she wondered whether she really wanted to go, or whether Tom did. And as she wondered the whisper of pain grew up from her side.

When Dessie got up in

the morning Tom was already at his drawing board, beating his forehead with his fist and growling to himself. Dessie looked over his shoulder. “Is it the acorn machine?”

“It should be easy,” he

said. “But how to get out the sticks and rocks?”

“I know you’re the inventor, but I invented the greatest acorn picker in the world and it’s ready to go.” “What do you mean?” “Children,” she said.

“Those restless little hands.” “They wouldn’t do it,

not even for pay.” “They would for prizes.

A prize for everyone and a big prize for the winner—

maybe a hundred-dollar prize. They’d sweep the valley clean. Will you let me try?” He scratched his head.

“Why not?” he said. “But how would you collect the acorns?”

“The children will bring them in,” said Dessie. “Just let me take care of it. I hope you have plenty of storage space.”

“It would be exploiting the young, wouldn’t it?” “Certainly it would,”

Dessie agreed. “When I had my shop I exploited the girls who wanted to learn to sew— and they exploited me. I think I will call this The Great Monterey



Contest. And I won’t let everyone in. Maybe bicycles for

prizes—wouldn’t you

pick up acorns in hope of a bicycle, Tom?”

“Sure I would,” he said. “But couldn’t we pay them too?”

“Not with money,”

Dessie said. “That would reduce it to labor, and they will not labor if they can help it, Nor will I.”

Tom leaned back from

his board and laughed. “Nor will I,” he said. “All right, you are in charge of acorns

and I am in charge of pigs.”

Dessie said, “Tom,

wouldn’t it be ridiculous if we made money, we of all people?”

“But you made money in Salinas,” he said. “Some—not much. But

oh, I was rich in promises. If the bills had ever been paid we wouldn’t need pigs. We could go to Paris tomorrow.” “I’m going to drive in

and talk to Will,” said Tom. He pushed his chair back from the drawing board. “Want to come with me?” “No, I’ll stay and make

my plans. Tomorrow I start The Great Acorn Contest.”

On the ride back to the ranch in the late afternoon Tom was depressed

and sad.


always, Will had managed to chew up and spit out his enthusiasm. Will had pulled his lip, rubbed his eyebrows, scratched his nose, cleaned his glasses, and made a major operation of cutting and lighting a cigar. The pig proposition was full of holes, and Will was able to put his fingers in the holes.

The Acorn Contest

wouldn’t work although he

was not explicit about why it wouldn’t. The whole thing was shaky, particularly in these times. The very best Will was able to do was to agree to think about it.

At one time during the

talk Tom had thought to tell Will about Europe, but a quick instinct stopped him. The idea of traipsing around Europe, unless, of course, you were retired and had your capital out in good securities, would be to Will a craziness that would make the pig plan a marvel of business acumen. Tom did not tell him, and he left Will to “think it over,” knowing that the verdict would be against the pigs and the acorns.

Poor Tom did not know and could not learn that dissembling successfully is one of the creative joys of a businessman.

To indicate

enthusiasm was to be idiotic. And Will really did mean to think it over. Parts of the plan fascinated him. Tom had stumbled

on a


interesting thing. If you could buy shoats on credit, fatten them on food that cost next to nothing, sell them, pay off your loan, and take your profit, you would really have done something. Will would

not rob his brother. He would cut him in on the profits, but Tom was a dreamer and could not be trusted with a good sound

plan. Tom, for

instance, didn’t even know the price of pork and its probable trend. If it worked out, Will could be depended on to give Tom a very substantial


even a Ford. And how about a Ford as first and only prize for acorns? Everybody in the whole valley would pick acorns.

Driving up the Hamilton road, Tom wondered how to

break it to Dessie that their plan was no good. The best way would be to have another plan to substitute for it. How could they make enough money in one year to go to Europe? And suddenly he realized that he didn’t know how much they’d need. He didn’t know the price of a steamship ticket. They might spend the evening figuring.

He half expected Dessie

to run out of the house when he drove up. He would put on his best face and tell a joke.

But Dessie didn’t run out. Maybe taking a nap, he thought. He watered the horses and stabled them and pitched hay into the manger. Dessie was lying on the

gooseneck sofa when Tom came in. “Taking a nap?” he asked, and then he saw the color of her face. “Dessie,” he cried, “what’s the matter?”

She rallied herself

against pain. “Just a stomach ache,” she said. “A pretty severe one.”

“Oh,” said Tom. “You scared me. I can fix up a stomach ache.” He went to the kitchen and brought back a glass of pearly liquid. He handed it to her.

“What is it, Tom?” “Good


salts. It may gripe you a little but it’ll do the job.”

She drank it obediently

and made a face. “I remember that

taste,” she said.

“Mother’s remedy in green apple season.”

“Now you lie still,” Tom said. “I’ll rustle up some dinner.”

She could hear him knocking

about in the

kitchen. The pain roared through her body. And on top of the pain there was fear.

She could feel the medicine burn down to her stomach. After a while she dragged

herself to the new homemade flush toilet and tried to vomit the salts. The perspiration ran from

her forehead and

blinded her. When she tried to straighten up the muscles over her stomach were set, and she could not break free.

Later Tom brought her some scrambled eggs. She shook her head slowly. “I can’t,” she said, smiling. “I think I’ll just go to bed.” “The salts should work pretty soon,” Tom assured her. “Then you’ll be all right.” He helped her to bed. “What do you suppose you ate to cause it?”

Dessie lay

in her

bedroom and her will battled the pain. About ten o’clock in the evening her will began to lose its fight. She called, “Tom! Tom!” He opened the door. He had the World Almanac in his hand. “Tom,” she said, “I’m sorry. But I’m awfully

sick, Tom.


terribly sick.”

He sat on the edge of her

bed in the half-darkness. “Are the gripes bad?”

“Yes, awful.”

“Can you go to the toilet


“No, not now.”

“I’ll bring a lamp and sit with you,” he said. “Maybe you can get some sleep. It’ll be gone in the morning. The salts will do the job.”

Her will took hold again and she lay still while Tom read bits out of the Almanac to soothe her. He stopped

reading when he thought she was sleeping, and he dozed in his chair beside the lamp.

A thin scream awakened him. He stepped beside the struggling


Dessie’s eyes were milky and crazy,

like those

of a

maddened horse. Her mouth corners erupted thick bubbles and her face was on fire. Tom put his hand under the cover and felt muscles knotted like iron. And then her struggle stopped and her head fell back and the light glinted on her half-closed eyes.

Tom put only a bridle on the horse and flung himself on bareback. He groped and

ripped out his belt to beat the frightened

horse to


awkward run over the stony, rutted wheel track.

The Duncans, asleep

upstairs in their two-story house on the county road, didn’t hear the banging on their door, but they heard the bang and ripping sound as their front door came off, carrying lock and hinges with it. By the time Red Duncan got downstairs with a shotgun Tom was screaming into the wall telephone at the King City central. “Dr. Tusón! Get him! I don’t care. Get him!

Get him, goddam it.” Red Duncan sleepily had the gun on him.

Dr. Tilson said, “Yes! Yes—yes, I hear. You’re Tom Hamilton. What’s the matter with her? Is her stomach hard? What did you

do? Salts! You goddam fool!”

Then the doctor

controlled his anger. “Tom,” he said, “Tom, boy. Pull yourself together. Go back and lay cold cloths—cold as you can get them. I don’t suppose you have any ice.

Well, keep changing the cloths. I’ll be out as fast as I can. Do you hear me? Tom, do you hear me?”

He hung the receiver up and

dressed. In angry

weariness he opened the wall cabinet and collected scalpels and clamps, sponges and tubes and sutures, to put in

his bag. He shook his gasoline pressure lantern to make sure it was full and arranged ether can and mask beside it on his bureau. His wife in boudoir cap and nightgown looked in. Dr.

Tilson said, “I’m walking over to the garage. Call Will Hamilton. Tell him I want him to drive me to his father’s place. If he argues tell him his sister is—dying.” 3

Tom came riding back to the ranch a week after Dessie’s funeral, riding high and prim, his shoulders straight and chin in, like a guardsman on parade.

Tom had


everything slowly, perfectly. His horse was curried and brushed, and his Stetson hat was square on his head. Not even Samuel could have held himself in more dignity than Tom as he rode back to the old house. A hawk driving down on a chicken with doubled fists did not make him turn his head.

At the barn he

dismounted, watered


horse, held him a moment at the door, haltered him, and put rolled barley in the box

beside the manger. He took off the saddle and turned the blanket inside out to dry.

Then the barley was finished and he led the bay horse out and turned him free to graze on every unfenced inch of the world.

In the

house the

furniture, chairs, and stove seemed to shrink back and away from him in distaste. A stool avoided him as he went to the living room. His matches were soft and damp, and with a feeling of apology he went to the kitchen for more. The lamp in the living room was fair and lonely.

Tom’s first match flame ran quickly around the Rochester wick and then stood up a full inch of yellow flame.

Tom sat down in the evening and looked around.

His eyes avoided the

horsehair sofa. A slight noise of mice in the kitchen made him turn, and he saw his shadow on the wall and his hat was on. He removed it and laid it on the table beside him.

He thought dawdling, protective thoughts, sitting under the lamp, but he knew that pretty soon his name would be called and he would

have to go up before the bench with himself as judge and his own crimes as jurors.

And his name was

called, shrilly in his ears. His mind walked in to face the accusers:

Vanity, which

charged him with being ill dressed and dirty and vulgar; and Lust, slipping him the money for his whoring; Dishonesty, to make him pretend to talent and thought he did not have; Laziness and Gluttony arm in arm. Tom felt

comforted by


because they screened the

great Gray One in the back seat, waiting—the gray and dreadful crime. He dredged up lesser things, used small sins almost like virtues to save himself. There were Covetousness

of Will’s

money, Treason toward his mother’s God, Theft of time and hope, sick Rejection of love.

Samuel spoke softly but

his voice filled the room. “Be good, be pure, be great, be Tom Hamilton.”

Tom ignored his father.

He said, “I’m busy greeting my friends,” and he nodded to Discourtesy and Ugliness and Unfilial Conduct and

Unkempt Fingernails. Then he started with Vanity again. The Gray One shouldered up in front. It was too late to stall with baby sins. This Gray One was Murder.

Tom’s hand felt the chill of the glass and saw the pearly

liquid with the

dissolving crystals still turning over

and lucent bubbles rising, and


repeated aloud in the empty, empty room, “This will do the job. Just wait till morning. You’ll feel fine then.” That’s

how it had sounded, exactly how, and the walls and chairs and the lamp had all heard it and they could prove it. There was no place in the whole world for Tom Hamilton to live. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

He shuffled

possibilities like





pyramids in Egypt and the Sphinx. No! Paris? No! Now wait—they do all your sins lots better there. No! Well, stand aside and maybe we’ll come

back to you.

Bethlehem? Dear God, no! It would be lonely there for a stranger.

And here interpolated—

it’s so hard to remember how you die or when. An eyebrow raised or a whisper—they may be it; or a night mottled with splashed light until powder-driven

lead finds

your secret and lets out the fluid in you.

Now this is true, Tom Hamilton was dead and he had only to do a few decent things to make it final.

The sofa cricked in

criticism, and Tom looked at it and at the smoking lamp to which the sofa referred. “Thank you,” Tom said to the sofa. “I hadn’t noticed it,” and he turned down the wick until the smoking stopped.

His mind dozed. Murder slapped him aware again. Now Red Tom, Gum Tom, was too tired to kill himself. That takes some doing, with maybe pain and maybe hell. He remembered that his mother had a strong distaste for suicide, feeling that it combined three things of which

she strongly

disapproved—bad manners, cowardice, and sin. It was

almost as bad as adultery or stealing—maybe just as bad. There must be a way to avoid Liza’s disapproval. She could make one suffer if she disapproved.

Samuel wouldn’t make it hard, but on the other hand you couldn’t avoid Samuel because he was in the air every place. Tom had to tell Samuel. He said, “My father, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. You overestimated me. You were wrong. I wish I could justify the love and the pride you squandered on me. Maybe you could figure a way out, but I can’t. I cannot live. I’ve killed Dessie and I want to sleep.”

And his mind spoke for

his father absent, saying, “Why, I can understand how that would be. There are so many patterns to choose from in the arc from birth back to birth again. But let’s think how we can make it all right with Mother. Why are you so impatient, dear?”

“I can’t wait, that’s

why,” Tom said. “I can’t wait any more.”

“Why, sure you can, my son, my darling. You’re grown great as I knew you

would. Open the table drawer and then make use of that turnip you call your head.”

Tom opened the drawer and saw a tablet of Crane’s

Linen Lawn and a package of envelopes to match and two

gnawed and crippled pencils and in the dust corner at the back a few stamps. He laid out the tablet and sharpened the

pencils with his


He wrote, “Dear Mother,

I hope you keep yourself well. I am going to plan to spend more time with you.

Olive asked me for

Thanksgiving and you know I’ll be there. Our little Olive can cook a turkey nearly to match yours, but I know you will never believe that. I’ve

had a stroke of good luck. Bought a horse for fifteen dollars—a gelding, and he looks like a blood-horse to me. I got him cheap because he has taken a dislike to mankind. His former owner spent more time on his own back than on the gelding’s. I must say he’s a pretty cute article. He’s thrown me twice but I’ll get him yet, and if I break him I’ll have one of the best horses in the whole county. And you can be sure I’ll break him if it takes all winter. I don’t know why I go on about him, only the man I bought him from said a funny thing. He said, ‘That horse is so mean he’d eat a man right off his back.’ Well, remember

what Father used to say when we went rabbit hunting? ‘Come back with your shield or on it.’ I’ll see you Thanksgiving.

Your son Tom.”

He wondered whether it

was good enough, but he was too tired to do it again. He added, “P.S. I notice that Polly has not reformed one bit. That parrot makes me blush.”

On another sheet he

wrote, “Dear Will, No matter what you yourself may think

—please help me now. For Mother’s sake—please. I was killed by a horse—thrown and kicked in the head—

please! Your brother Tom.”

He stamped the letters and put them in his pocket

and he asked Samuel, “Is that all right?”

In his bedroom he broke open a new box of shells and put one of them in the cylinder of his well-oiled Smith and Wesson .38 and he set the loaded chamber one space to the left of the firing pin.

His horse standing

sleepily near the fence came to his whistle and stood drowsing while he saddled up.

It was three o’clock in

the morning when he dropped

the letters in the post office at King City and mounted and turned his horse south toward the unproductive hills of the old Hamilton place.

He was a

gallant gentlemen.

You'll Also Like