Chapter no 43

East of Eden

Late in the summer Lee came in off the street, carrying his big market basket. Lee had become


conservative in his clothes since he had lived in Salinas. He regularly wore black broadcloth when he went out of the house. His shirts were white, his collars high and stiff, and he affected narrow black string ties, like those which once were the badge for Southern senators. His

hats were black, round of crown and straight of brim, and uncrushed as though he still left room for a coiled queue. He was immaculate. Once

Adam had remarked on

the quiet

splendor of Lee’s clothes, and Lee had grinned at him. “I have to do it,” he said. “One must be very rich to dress as badly as you do. The poor are forced to dress well.”

“Poor!” Adam exploded. “You’ll be lending us money before we’re through.” “That might be,” said


This afternoon he set his heavy basket on the floor. “I’m going to try to make a winter melon soup,” he said. “Chinese cooking. I have a cousin in Chinatown, and he told me how. My cousin is in the firecracker and fan-tan business.”

“I thought you didn’t have any relatives,” said Adam.

“All Chinese are related, and the ones named Lee are closest,” said Lee. “My cousin is a Suey Dong.

Recently he went into hiding for his health and he learned to cook. You stand the melon in a pot, cut off the top carefully, put in a whole

chicken, mushrooms, water chestnuts, leeks, and just a touch of ginger. Then you put the top back on the melon and cook it as slowly as possible for two days. Ought to be good.”

Adam was lying back in his chair, his palms clasped

behind his head, and he was smiling at the ceiling. “Good, Lee, good,” he said.

“You didn’t even listen,” said Lee.

Adam drew himself

upright. He said, “You think you know your own children and then you find you don’t at all.”

Lee smiled. “Has some

detail of their lives escaped you?” he asked.

Adam chuckled. “I only found out by accident,” he said. “I knew that Aron wasn’t around very much this summer, but I thought he was just out playing.”

“Playing!” said Lee. “He hasn’t played for years.” “Well,

whatever he does.”

Adam continued,

“Today I met Mr. Kilkenny— you know, from the high school? He thought I knew all about it. Do you know what that boy is doing?”

“No,” said Lee.

“He’s covered all next year’s work. He’s going to

take examinations for college and

save a year. And

Kilkenny is confident that he will pass. Now, what do you think of that?” “Remarkable,” said Lee. “Why is he doing it?”

“Why, to save a year!” “What does he want to save it for?”

“Goddam it, Lee, he’s ambitious.

Can’t you

understand that?”

“No,” said Lee. “I never


Adam said, “He never spoke of it. I wonder if his brother knows.”

“I guess Aron wants it to be a surprise. We shouldn’t mention it until he does.” “I guess you’re right. Do

you know, Lee?—I’m proud of him. Terribly proud. This makes me feel good. I wish Cal had some ambition.” “Maybe he has,” said

Lee. “Maybe he has some kind of a secret too.” “Maybe. God knows we haven’t seen much of him lately either. Do you think it’s good for him to be away so much?”

“Cal’s trying to find himself,” said Lee. “I guess

this personal hide-and-seek is not

unusual. And some

people are ‘it’ all their lives— hopelessly ‘it’.”

“Just think,” said Adam.

“A whole year’s work ahead. When he tells us we ought to have a present for him.”

“A gold watch,” said Lee.

“That’s right,” said

Adam. “I’m going to get one and have it engraved and ready. What should it say?” “The jeweler will tell

you,” said Lee. “You take the chicken out after two days

and cut it off the bone and put the meat back.”

“What chicken?” “Winter melon soup,” said Lee.

“Have we got money enough to send him to college, Lee?”

“If we’re careful and he doesn’t develop expensive tastes.”

“He wouldn’t,” Adam said.

“I didn’t think I would—

but I have.” Lee inspected the sleeve of his coat with admiration.


The rectory of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was large and rambling. It had been built for ministers with large

families. Mr. Rolf, unmarried and simple in his tastes, closed up most of the house, but when Aron needed a place to study he gave him a large room and helped him with his studies.

Mr. Rolf was fond of Aron. He liked the angelic beauty of his face and his smooth cheeks, his narrow

hips, and long straight legs. He liked to sit in the room and

watch Aron’s face

straining with effort to learn. He understood why Aron could not work at home in an atmosphere not conducive to hard clean thought. Mr. Rolf

felt that Aron was his product, his spiritual son, his contribution to the church. He saw him through his travail of celibacy and felt that he was guiding him into calm waters.

Their discussions were

long and close and personal. “I know I am criticized,” Mr. Rolf said. “I happen to believe in a higher church than some people. No one can tell me that confession is not just as important a sacrament as communion. And you mind my word—I am going to

bring it back, but

cautiously, gradually.”

“When I have a church I’ll do it too.”

“It requires great tact,” said Mr. Rolf.

Aron said, “I wish we had in our church, well—

well, I might as well say it. I wish we had something like the

Augustines or


Franciscans. Someplace to withdraw. Sometimes I feel dirty. I want to get away from the dirt and be clean.”

“I know how you feel,”

Mr. Rolf said earnestly. “But there I cannot go along with you. I can’t think that our Lord Jesus would want his priesthood withdrawn from

service to the world. Think how he insisted that we preach the Gospel, help the sick and poor, even lower ourselves into filth to raise sinners from the slime. We must keep the exactness of His example always before


His eyes began to glow and his voice took on the throatiness

he used in

sermons. “Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this. And I hope you won’t find any pride in me in telling it. But there is a kind of glory in it. For the last five weeks a woman has been coming to evening service. I don’t think you can see her from the choir. She sits always in the last row on the left-hand side—yes, you can see her too. She is off at an angle. Yes, you can see her.

She wears a veil and she

always leaves before I can get back after recessional.”

“Who is she?” Aron asked.

“Well, you’ll have to learn these things. I made very discreet inquiries and

you would never guess. She is the—well—the owner of a house of ill fame.”

“Here in Salinas?” “Here in Salinas.” Mr.

Rolf leaned forward. “Aron, I can see your revulsion. You must get over that. Don’t forget our Lord and Mary Magdalene. Without pride I say I would be glad to raise her up.”

“What does she want here?” Aron demanded. “Perhaps what we have

to offer—salvation. It will require great tact. I can see how it will be. And mark my words—these

people are

timid. One day there will come a tap on my door and she will beg to come in.

Then, Aron, I pray that I may be wise and patient. You must believe me—when that happens, when a lost soul seeks the light, it is the highest and most beautiful experience a priest can have. That’s what we are for, Aron. That’s what we are for.”

Mr. Rolf controlled his breathing with difficulty. “I pray God I may not fail,” he said.


Adam Trask thought of the war in terms of his own now dimly remembered campaign against the Indians. No one knew anything about huge and general war. Lee read European history, trying to discern from the filaments of the past some pattern of the future.

Liza Hamilton died with

a pinched little smile on her mouth, and her cheekbones were shockingly high when the red was gone from them. And

Adam waited

impatiently for Aron to bring news of his examinations.

The massive gold watch lay

under his handkerchiefs in the top drawer of his bureau, and he kept it wound and set and checked its accuracy against his own watch.

Lee had his instructions.

On the evening of the day of the announcement he was to cook a turkey and bake a cake.

“We’ll want to make a party of it,” Adam said. “What would you think of champagne?”

“Very nice,” said Lee. “Did you ever read von Clausewitz?”

“Who is he?”

“Not very reassuring reading,” said Lee. “One bottle of champagne?” “That’s enough. It’s just

for toasts, you know. Makes a party of it.” It didn’t occur to Adam that Aron might fail.

One afternoon Aron

came in and asked Lee, “Where’s father?” “He’s shaving.”

“I won’t be in for dinner,” said Aron. In the

bathroom he stood behind his

father and spoke to the soap-faced image in the mirror. “Mr. Rolf asked me to have

dinner at the rectory.”

Adam wiped his razor

on a folded piece of toilet paper. “That’s nice,” he said. “Can I get a bath?”

“I’ll be out of here in

just a minute,” said Adam. When

Aron walked

through the living room and said good night and went out, Cal and Adam looked after him. “He got into my cologne,” said Cal. “I can still smell him.”

“It must be quite a party,” Adam said.

“I don’t blame him for wanting to celebrate. That was a hard job.” “Celebrate?”

“The exams. Didn’t he

tell you? He passed them.” “Oh, yes—the exams,”

said Adam. “Yes, he told me. A fine job. I’m proud of him. I think I’ll get him a gold watch.”

Cal said sharply, “He

didn’t tell you!”

“Oh, yes—yes, he did.

He told me this morning.” “He didn’t know this morning,” said Cal, and he got up and went out.

He walked very fast in

the gathering darkness, out Central Avenue, past the park and past Stonewall Jackson Smart’s house clear to the place beyond the streetlights where the street became a county road and angled to avoid Tollot’s farm house.

At ten o’clock Lee, going out to mail a letter, found Cal sitting on the

lowest step of the front porch. “What happened to you?” he asked.

“I went for a walk.”

“What’s the matter with Aron?”

“I don’t know.”

“He seems to have some kind of grudge. Want to walk to the post office with me?” “No.”

“What are you sitting out here for?”

“I’m going to beat the hell out of him.” “Don’t do it,” said Lee. “Why not?”

“Because I don’t think

you can. He’d slaughter you.” “I guess you’re right,”

said Cal. “The son of a bitch!”

“Watch your language.” Cal laughed. “I guess I’ll walk along with you.” “Did you ever read von


“I never even heard of him.”

When Aron came home

it was Lee who was waiting for him on the lowest step of the front porch. “I saved you from a licking,” Lee said. “Sit down.”

“I’m going to bed.”

“Sit down! I want to talk to you. Why didn’t you tell your father you passed the tests?”

“He wouldn’t understand.”

“You’ve got a bug up your ass.”

“I don’t like that kind of language.”

“Why do you think I

used it? I am not profane by accident. Aron, your father has been living for this.” “How did he know about it?”

“You should have told him yourself.”

“This is none of your business.”

“I want you to go in and wake him up if he’s asleep, but I don’t think he’ll be asleep. I want you to tell him.”

“I won’t do it.”

Lee said softly, “Aron,

did you ever have to fight a little man, a man half your size?”

“What do you mean?” “It’s one of the most embarrassing things in the

world. He won’t stop and pretty soon you have to hit him and that’s worse. Then you’re really in trouble all around.”

“What are you talking about?”

“If you don’t do as I tell

you, Aron, I’m going to fight you. Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Aron tried to pass. Lee stood up in front of him, his tiny

fists doubled

ineffectually, his stance and position so silly that he began to laugh. “I don’t know how to do it, but I’m going to try,” he said.

Aron nervously backed away from him. And when

finally he sat down on the steps Lee sighed deeply. “Thank heaven that’s over,” he said. “It would have been awful. Look, Aron, can’t you tell me what’s the matter with you? You always used to tell me.”

Suddenly Aron broke down. “I want to go away. It’s a dirty town.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s just the same as other places.” “I don’t belong here. I

wish we hadn’t ever come here. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I want to go away.” His voice rose to a wail.

Lee put his arm around the


shoulders to comfort him. “You’re

growing up. Maybe that’s it,” he said softly. “Sometimes I think the world tests us most sharply then, and we turn inward and watch ourselves with horror. But that’s not the worst. We think everybody is seeing into us. Then dirt is very dirty and purity is shining white. Aron, it will be over. Wait only a little while and it will be over. That’s not much relief to you because you don’t believe it, but it’s the best I can do for you. Try to believe that things are neither so good nor so bad as

they seem to you now. Yes, I can help you. Go to bed now, and in the morning get up early and tell your father about the tests. Make it exciting. He’s lonelier than you are because he has no lovely future to dream about. Go through the motions. Sam Hamilton said that. Pretend it’s true and maybe it will be. Go through the motions. Do that. And go to bed. I’ve got to bake a cake—for breakfast. And, Aron—your father left a present on your pillow

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