Chapter no 40

East of Eden

Kate sat back in her chair against

the deep down

cushions. Waves of nerves cruised over her body, raising the little hairs and making ridges of icy burn as they went.

She spoke softly to herself. “Steady now,” she

said. “Quiet down. Don’t let it hit you. Don’t think for a

while. The goddam snot-nose!”

She thought suddenly of

the only person who had ever made her feel this panic hatred.

It was


Hamilton, with his white beard and his pink cheeks and the laughing eyes that lifted her


and looked


With her


forefinger she dug out a slender chain which hung around her neck and pulled the chain’s burden up from her bodice. On the chain were strung two safe-deposit keys,

a gold watch with a fleur-delis pin, and a little steel tube with a ring on its top. Very

carefully she unscrewed the top from the tube and, spreading her knees, shook out a gelatine capsule. She held the capsule under the light and saw the white crystals inside—six grains of morphine,

a good, sure

margin. Very gently she eased the capsule into its tube, screwed on the cap, and dropped the chain inside her dress.

Cal’s last words had

been repeating themselves over and over in her head. “I’m glad you’re afraid.” She said the words aloud to herself to kill the sound. The rhythm stopped, but a strong picture formed in her mind and she let it form so that she could inspect it again.


It was before the lean-to was built. Kate had collected the money Charles had left. The

check was converted to large bills, and the bills in their bales were in the safe-deposit box at the Monterey County Bank.

It was about the time the first pains began to twist her hands. There was enough money now to go away. It was just a matter of getting the most she could out of the house. But also it was better to wait until she felt quite well again.

She never felt quite well again. New York seemed cold and very far away.

A letter came to her

signed “Ethel.” Who in hell was Ethel? Whoever she was, she must be crazy to ask for money. Ethel—there were

hundreds of Ethels. Ethels grew on every bush. And this one scrawled illegibly on a lined pad.

Not very long afterward Ethel came to see Kate, and Kate hardly recognized her. Kate sat at her desk, watchful,

suspicious, and

confident. “It’s been a long time,” she said.

Ethel responded like a soldier who comes in his

cushion age upon the sergeant who trained him. “I’ve been poorly,” she said. Her flesh had thickened and grown heavy all over her. Her clothes had the strained cleanliness

that means poverty. “Where are you—

staying now?” Kate asked, and she wondered how soon the old bag would be able to come to the point. “Southern Pacific Hotel.

I got a room.”

“Oh, then you don’t work in a house now?” “I couldn’t never get started again,” said Ethel. “You shouldn’t of run me off.” She wiped big tears

from the corners of her eyes with the tip of a cotton glove. “Things are bad,” she said. “First I had trouble when we

got that new judge. Ninety days, and I didn’t have no record—not here anyways. I come out of that and I got the old Joe. I didn’t know I had it. Give it to a regular—nice fella, worked on the section gang. He got sore an’ busted me up, hurt my nose, lost four teeth, an’ that new judge he give me a hundred and

eighty. Hell, Kate, you lose all your contacts in a hundred and eighty days. They forget you’re alive. I just never could get started.”

Kate nodded her head in cold and shallow sympathy. She knew that Ethel was working up to the bite. Just before it came Kate made a move. She opened her desk

drawer and took out some money and held it out to Ethel. “I never let a friend down,” she said. “Why don’t you go to a new town, start fresh? It might change your luck.”

Ethel tried to keep her fingers from grabbing at the money. She fanned the bills like a poker hand—four tens. Her mouth began to work with emotion.

Ethel said, “I kind of

hoped you’d see your way to let me take more than forty bucks.”

“What do you mean?” “Didn’t you get my letter?”

“What letter?”

“Oh’“ said Ethel. “Well,

maybe it got lost in the mail. They don’t take no care of things. Anyways, I thought you might look after me. I don’t feel good hardly ever. Got a kind of weight dragging my guts down.” She sighed and then she spoke so rapidly that Kate knew it had been rehearsed.

“Well, maybe you

remember how I’ve got like second sight,” Ethel began. “Always predicting things that

come true.


dreaming stuff and it come out. Fella says I should go in

the business. Says I’m a natural



remember that?” “No,” said Kate, “I don’t.”

“Don’t? Well, maybe

you never noticed. All the others did. I told ’em lots of things and they come true.” “What are you trying to say?”

“I had this-here dream. I remember

when it was

because it was the same night Faye died.” Her eves flicked up at Kate’s cold face. She continued

doggedly, “It

rained that night, and it was raining

in my


anyways, it was wet. Well, in my dream I seen you come out the kitchen door. It wasn’t pitch-dark—moon


coming through a little. And the dream thing was you. You went out to the back of the lot and stooped over. I couldn’t see what you done. Then you come creeping back.

“Next thing I knew— why, Faye was dead.” She

paused and waited for some comment from Kate, but

Kate’s face was


Ethel waited until she was sure Kate would not speak. “Well, like I said, I always

believed in


dreams. It’s funny, there wasn’t nothing out there except

some smashed

medicine bottles and a little rubber tit from an eye-dropper.”

Kate said lazily, “So you took them to a doctor. What did he say had been in the bottles?”

“Oh, I didn’t do nothing like that.”

“You should have,” said Kate.

“I don’t want to see nobody get in trouble. I’ve

had enough trouble myself. I put that broke glass in an envelope and stuck it away.” Kate said softly, “And so you are coming to me for advice?”

“Yes, ma’am.” “I’ll tell you what I

think,” said Kate. “I think you’re a worn-out old whore and you’ve been beaten over the head too many times.” “Don’t you start saying

I’m nuts—” Ethel began. “No, maybe you’re not, but you’re tired and you’re

sick. I told you I never let a friend down. You can come back here. You can’t work but you can help around, clean and give the cook a hand. You’ll have a bed and you’ll get your meals. How would that be? And a little spending money.”

Ethel stirred uneasily. “No, ma’am,” she said. “I

don’t think I want to—sleep here. I don’t carry that envelope around. I left it with a friend.”

“What did you have in mind?” Kate asked. “Well, I thought if you

could see your way to let me have a hundred dollars a month, why, I could make out and maybe get my health


“You said you lived at

the Southern Pacific Hotel?” “Yes, ma’am—and my

room is right up the hall from the desk. The night clerk’s a friend of mine. He don’t never sleep when he’s on duty. Nice fella.”

Kate said, “Don’t wet

your pants, Ethel. All you’ve got to worry about is how much does the ‘nice fella’ want. Now wait a minute.”

She counted six more ten-dollar bills from the drawer in front of her and held them


“Will it come the first of the month or do I have to come here for it?”

“I’ll send it to you,” said Kate. “And, Ethel,” she

continued quietly, “I still think you ought to have those bottles analyzed.”

Ethel clutched the

money tightly in her hand. She was bubbling over with triumph and good feeling. It was one of the few things that had ever worked out for her. “I wouldn’t think of doing that,” she said. “Not unless I had to.”

After she had gone Kate strolled out to the back of the lot behind the house. And even after years she could see from the unevenness of the earth that it must have been pretty thoroughly dug over.

The next morning the

judge heard the usual

chronicle of small violence and nocturnal greed. He only half listened to the fourth case and at the end of the terse testimony of the complaining witness he asked, “How much did you lose?”

The dark-haired man said, “Pretty close to a hundred dollars.”

The judge turned to the arresting officer. “How much did she have?”

“Ninety-six dollars. She

got whisky and cigarettes and some magazines from the night clerk at six o’clock this morning.”

Ethel cried, “I never seen this guy in my life.”

The judge looked up

from his papers. “Twice for prostitution and now robbery. You’re costing too much. I want you out of town by noon.” He turned to the officer. “Tell the sheriff to run her over the county line.” And he said to Ethel, “If you come back, I’ll give you to the county for the limit, and that’s San Quentin. Do you understand?”

Ethel said, “Judge, I want to see you alone.” “Why?”

“I got to see you,” said Ethel. “This is a frame.” “Everything’s a frame,” said the judge. “Next.”

While a deputy sheriff

drove Ethel to the county line on the bridge over the Pajaro River,

the complaining witness strolled down Castroville Street toward

Kate’s, changed his mind and went

back to


barbershop to get a hair cut.


Ethel’s visit did not disturb Kate very much when it happened. She knew about

what attention would be paid to a whore with a grievance, and that an analysis of the broken bottles would not show anything recognizable as poison. She had nearly forgotten Faye. The forcible recalling was simply an unpleasant memory.

Gradually, however, she found herself thinking about it. One night when she was checking the items on a grocery bill a thought shot into her mind, shining and winking like a meteor. The thought flashed and went out so quickly that she had to stop what she was doing to try to find it. How was the dark face of Charles involved in the thought? And Sam

Hamilton’s puzzled and

merry eyes? And why did she get a shiver of fear from the flashing thought?

She gave it up and went

back to her work, but the face of Charles was behind her, looking over her shoulder.

Her fingers began to hurt her. She put the accounts away and made a tour through the house. It was a slow, listless night—a

Tuesday night.

There weren’t even enough customers to put on the circus.

Kate knew how the girls felt about her. They were

desperately afraid of her. She kept them that way. It was probable that they hated her, and that didn’t matter either. But they trusted her, and that did matter. If they followed the rules she laid down, followed them exactly, Kate would take care of them and protect them. There was no love involved and no respect. She never rewarded them and she punished an offender only twice before she removed her. The girls did have the security of knowing that they would

not be

punished without cause.

As Kate walked about,

the girls became elaborately casual. Kate knew about that too and expected it. But on this night she felt that she was not alone. Charles seemed to walk to the side and behind her.

She went through the dining room and into the kitchen, opened the icebox and looked in. She lifted the

cover of the garbage can and inspected it for waste. She did this every night, but this night she

carried some extra charge.

When she had left the

parlor the girls looked at each other

and raised their

shoulders in bewilderment. Eloise, who was talking to the dark-haired

Joe, said,

“Anything the matter?” “Not that I know of.


“I don’t know. She seems nervous.” “Well, there was some kind of rat race.” “What was it?”

“Wait a minute!” said

Joe. “I don’t know and you don’t know.”

“I get it. Mind my own business.”

“You’re goddam right,”

said Joe. “Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”

“I don’t want to know,” said Eloise.

“Now you’re talking,” Joe said.

Kate ranged back from

her tour. “I’m going to bed,” she said to Joe. “Don’t call me unless you have to.” “Anything I can do?”

“Yes, make me a pot of

tea. Did you press that dress, Eloise?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You didn’t do it very well.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Kate was restless. She

put all of her papers neatly in the pigeonholes of her desk, and when Joe brought the tea

tray she had him put it beside her bed.

Lying back among her pillows and sipping the tea, she probed for her thought. What about Charles? And then it came to her.

Charles was clever. In

his crazy way Sam Hamilton

was clever. That was the fear-driven thought—there were clever people. Both Sam and

Charles were dead, but maybe there

were others.


worked it out very slowly. Suppose I had been the one to dig up the bottles?

What would I think and what would I do? A rim of panic rose in her breast. Why were

the bottles broken and

buried? So it wasn’t a poison! Then why bury them? What had made her do that? She should have dropped them in the gutter on Main Street or tossed them in the garbage can. Dr. Wilde was dead. But what kind of records did he keep? She didn’t know.

Suppose she had found the glass and learned what had been in them. Wouldn’t she have asked someone who knew—“Suppose you gave croton oil to a person. What would happen?”

“Well, suppose you gave little doses and kept it up a

long time?” She would know. Maybe somebody else would know.

“Suppose you heard

about a rich madam who willed everything to a new girl and then died.” Kate knew perfectly well what her first thought would be. What insanity had made her get Ethel floated? Now she couldn’t be found. Ethel should have been paid and tricked into turning over the glass. Where was the glass now? In an envelope—but where? How could Ethel be found?

Ethel would know why and how she had been

floated. Ethel wasn’t bright, but she might tell somebody who

was bright.


chattering voice might tell the story, how Faye was sick, and what she looked like, and about the will.

Kate was


quickly and little prickles of fear were beginning to course over her body. She should go to New York or someplace— not bother to sell the house.

She didn’t need the money. She had plenty. Nobody could find her. Yes, but if she ran out and the clever person

heard Ethel tell the story, wouldn’t that cinch it?

Kate got up from her bed and took a heavy dose of bromide.

From that time on the crouching fear had always been at her side. She was almost glad when she learned that the pain in her hands was developing arthritis. An evil voice had whispered that it might be a punishment.

She had never gone out

in the town very much, but now

she developed a

reluctance to go out at all. She knew that men stared secretly after her, knowing

who she was. Suppose one of those

men should have

Charles’ face or Samuel’s eyes. She had to drive herself to go out once a week.

Then she built the lean-to and had it painted gray.

She said it was because the light troubled her eyes, and gradually

she began to

believe the light did trouble her eyes. Her eyes burned after a trip to the town. She spent more and more time in her little room.

It is possible to some people, and it was possible

for Kate, to hold two

opposing thoughts at the same time. She believed that the light pained her eyes, and also that the gray room was a cave to hide in, a dark burrow in the earth, a place where no eyes could stare at her. Once, sitting in her pillowed chair, she considered having a secret door built so that she would have an avenue of escape. And then a feeling rather than a thought threw out the plan. She would not be protected then. If she could get out, something could get in—that something

which had begun to crouch outside the house, to crawl close to the walls at night, and to rise silently, trying to look through the windows. It required more and more will power for Kate to leave the house on Monday afternoons.

When Cal began to

follow her she had a terrible leap of fear. And when she waited for him behind the privet she was very near to panic.

But now her head dug

deep in her soft pillows and her eyes felt the gentle weight of the bromide.

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