Chapter no 4

East of Eden

Charles stood at the bar in the village inn and Charles was laughing delightedly at the


stories the night-stranded

drummers were

telling. He got out his tobacco sack with its meager jingle of silver and bought the men a drink to keep them talking. He stood and grinned and rubbed his split knuckles. And when the drummers,

accepting his drink, raised their glasses and said, “Here’s to you,” Charles


delighted. He ordered another drink for his new friends, and then he joined them for some kind of deviltry in another place.

When Cyrus stumped

out into the night he was


with a kind of despairing anger at Charles. He looked on the road for his son, and he went to the inn to look for him, but Charles was gone. It is probable that if he had found him that night he would have killed him, or tried to. The direction of a big act will warp history, but probably all acts do the same in their degree, down to a stone stepped over in the path or a breath caught at sight of a pretty girl or a fingernail nicked in the garden soil. Naturally it was not long before Charles was told that his father was looking for him with a shotgun. He hid out for two weeks, and when he

finally did return, murder had sunk back to simple anger and he paid his penalty in

overwork and a

false theatrical humility. Adam lay four days in bed, so stiff and aching that he could not move without a groan. On the third day his father gave evidence of his power with the military. He did it as a poultice to his own pride and also as a kind of prize for Adam. Into the house, into Adam’s bedroom, came a captain of cavalry and


sergeants in dress uniform of blue. In the dooryard their horses were held by two privates. Lying in his bed, Adam was enlisted in the army as a private in the cavalry.


signed the

Articles of War and took the oath while his father and Alice looked on. And his father’s eyes glistened with tears. After the soldiers had gone his father sat with him a long time. “I’ve put you in the cavalry for a reason,” he said. “Barrack life is not a good life for long. But the cavalry has work to do. I made sure of that. You’ll like going for the Indian country.

There’s action coming. I can’t tell you how I know. There’s fighting on the way.”

“Yes, sir,” Adam said.


It has always seemed strange to me that it is usually men like Adam who have to do the soldiering. He did not like fighting to start with, and far from learning to love it, as some men do, he felt an increasing revulsion for violence. Several times his officers looked closely at him for malingering, but


charge was brought. During these five years of soldiering Adam did more detail work than any man in the squadron, but if he killed any enemy it was an accident of ricochet. Being a

marksman and


he was

peculiarly fitted to miss. By this time the Indian fighting had become like dangerous cattle drives-the tribes were forced into revolt, driven and decimated, and the sad, sullen remnants settled on starvation lands. It was not nice work but, given the pattern of the country’s development, it had to be done.

To Adam who was an

instrument, who saw not the future farms but only the torn bellies of fine humans, it was revolting and useless. When he fired his carbine to miss he


committing treason against his unit, and he didn’t care.

The emotion

of nonviolence was building in






prejudice like any other thought-stultifying prejudice. To inflict any hurt on anything for any purpose became inimical to him. He became obsessed with this emotion, for such it surely was, until it blotted out any possible thinking in its area. But never was there any hint of cowardice in Adam’s army record. Indeed he was

commended three times and

then decorated for bravery. As he revolted more and more from violence, his impulse took the opposite direction. He ventured his life a number of times to bring in


men. He

volunteered for work in field hospitals even when he was exhausted from his regular duties. He was regarded by his

comrades with contemptuous affection and the unspoken fear men have of impulses they do not understand. Charles wrote to his brother regularly-of the farm and the village, of sick cows and a foaling mare, of the added pasture and the lightning-struck barn,

of Alice’s choking death from her consumption and his father’s move to a permanent paid position in the G.A.R. in Washington. As with many people, Charles, who could not talk, wrote with fullness. He set down his loneliness and his perplexities, and he put on paper many things he did not know about himself. During the time Adam was away he knew his brother better than ever before or afterward. In the exchange of letters there grew a closeness neither of them could have imagined. Adam kept one letter from his brother, not because he understood it completely but because it seemed to have a covered meaning he could not get at. “Dear Brother

Adam,” the letter said, “I take my pen in hand to hope you are in good health”-he always started this way to ease himself gently into the task of writing. “I have not had your answer to my last letter but I presume you have other things to do-ha! ha! The rain came wrong and damned the apple blossoms. There won’t be many to eat next winter but I will save what I can. Tonight I cleaned the house, and it is wet and

soapy and maybe not any cleaner. How do you suppose Mother kept it the way she did? It does not look the




down on it. I don’t know what, but it will not scrub off. But I have spread the dirt

around more evenly anyways.

Ha! ha! “Did Father write you anything about his trip? He’s gone clean out to San Francisco in California for an

encampment of the Grand Army. The Secty. of War is going to be there, and Father is to introduce him. But this is not any great shucks to Father. He has met the President three, four times and even been to supper to the White House. I would like to see the White House. Maybe you and me can go together when you come home. Father could put us up for a few days and he would be wanting to see you anyways.

“I think I better look around for a wife. This is a good farm, and even if I’m no bargain there’s girls could do worse than this farm. What do you think? You did not say if you are going to come live home when you get out of the army. I hope so. I miss you.” The

writing stopped there. There was a scratch on the page and a splash of ink, and then it went on in pencil, but the writing was different.

In pencil it said, “Later.

Well, right there the pen gave out. One of the points broke off. I’ll have to buy another penpoint in the village- rusted right through.” The words began to flow more smoothly. “I guess I should wait for a new penpoint and not write with a pencil. Only I was sitting here in the kitchen with the lamp on and I guess I got to thinking and it come on late -after twelve, I guess, but I never looked. Old Black Joe started crowing out in the

henhouse. Then


rocking chair cricked for all the world like she was sitting in it. You know I don’t take truck with that, but it set me

minding backward, you know how you do sometimes. I

guess I’ll tear this letter up

maybe, because what’s the good of writing stuff like this.”

The words began to race now as though they couldn’t get out fast enough. “If I’m to throw it away I’d just as well set it down,” the letter said. “It’s like the whole house was alive

and had eyes everywhere, and like there was people behind the door just ready to come in if you looked away. It kind of makes my skin crawl. I want to say-I want to say-I mean, I never understood-

well, why our father did it. I mean, why didn’t he like that knife I bought for him on his birthday. Why didn’t he? It was a good knife and he needed a good knife. If he had used it or even honed it, or took it out of his pocket and looked at it-that’s all he had to do. If he’d liked it I wouldn’t have took out after you. I had to take out after

you. Seems like to me my mother’s chair is rocking a

little. It’s just the light. I

don’t take any truck with that. Seems like to me there’s something not finished.

Seems like when you half finished a job and can’t think what it was. Something didn’t get done. I shouldn’t be here. I ought to be wandering around the world instead of sitting here on a good farm looking for a wife. There is something wrong, like it

didn’t get finished, like it

happened too soon and left something out. It’s me should be where you are and you

here. I never thought like this before. Maybe because it’s

late-it’s later than that. I just looked out and it’s first dawn. I don’t think I fell off to

sleep. How could the night go so fast? I can’t go to bed now.

I couldn’t sleep anyways.”




not signed. Maybe Charles forgot he had intended to destroy it and sent it along. But Adam saved it for a time, and whenever he read it again it gave him a chill and he didn’t

know why.

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