In the Trask house next to Reynaud’s Bakery, Lee and Adam put up a map of the western front with lines of colored pins snaking down, and this gave them a feeling of participation. Then Mr.
Kelly died and Adam Trask was appointed to take his place on the draft board. He was the logical man for the job. The ice plant did not take up much of his time, and he had a clear service record and an
honorable discharge himself.
Adam Trask had seen a war—a little war of maneuver
and butchery, but at least he had experienced the reversal of the rules where a man is permitted to kill all the humans he can. Adam didn’t remember his war very well. Certain sharp pictures stood out in his memory, a man’s face, the piled and burning bodies, the clang of saber scabbards at fast trot, the uneven, tearing sound of firing carbines, the thin cold voice of a bugle in the night. But Adam’s pictures were frozen. There was no motion or
emotion in them—
illustrations in the pages of a book, and not very well
Adam worked hard and honestly and sadly. He could not get over the feeling that the young men he passed to the army were under sentence of death. And because he knew he was weak, he grew more and more stern and painstaking and much less likely to accept an excuse or a borderline disability. He took the lists home with him, called on parents, in fact, did much more work than was expected of him. He felt like a hanging judge who hates the gallows.
Henry Stanton watched Adam grow more gaunt and more silent, and Henry was a man who liked fun—needed
it. A sour-pussed associate could make him sick. “Relax,” he told Adam. “You’re trying to carry the weight of the war. Now, look
—it’s not your responsibility. You got put in here with a set of rules. Just follow the rules and relax. You aren’t running the war.”
Adam moved the slats of the blind so that the late afternoon sun would not shine in his eyes, and he gazed down at the harsh
parallel lines the sun threw on his desk. “I know,” he said wearily. “Oh, I know that!
But, Henry, it’s when there’s a choice, and it’s my own judgment of the merits, that’s when it gets me. I passed
Judge Kendal’s boy and he was killed in training.” “It’s not your business,
Adam. Why don’t you take a few drinks at night? Go to a movie—sleep on it.” Henry put
his thumbs in
armholes of his vest and leaned back in his chair. “While we’re talking about it, Adam, it seems to me it don’t do a candidate a damn bit of good for you to worry. You pass boys I could be talked into letting off.”
“I know,” said Adam. “I wonder how long it will last?”
Henry inspected him shrewdly and took a pencil from his stuffed vest pocket and rubbed the eraser against his big white front teeth. “I see what you mean,” he said softly.
Adam looked at him, startled. “What do I mean?” he demanded.
“Now don’t get huffy. I never thought I was lucky before, just having girls.”
Adam traced one of the
slat shadows on his desk with his forefinger. “Yes,” he said in a voice as soft as a sigh. “It’s a long time before
your boys will be called up.” “Yes.” Adam’s finger
entered a line of light and slid slowly back.
Henry said, “I’d hate to
“Hate to what?”
“I was just wondering
how I’d feel if I had to pass on my own sons.”
“I’d resign,” said Adam. “Yes. I can see that. A man would be tempted to reject them—I mean, his own.”
“No,” said Adam. “I’d resign because I couldn’t reject them. A man couldn’t let his own go free.”
Henry laced his fingers
and made one big fist of his two hands and laid the fist on the desk in front of him. His face was querulous. “No,” he said, “you’re right. A man couldn’t.” Henry liked fun
and avoided when he could any solemn or serious matter, for he confused these with sorrow. “How’s Aron doing at Stanford?”
“Fine. He writes that it’s hard but he thinks he’ll make out all right. He’ll be home for Thanksgiving.”
“I’d like to see him. I saw Cal on the street last
night. There’s a smart boy.” “Cal didn’t take college tests a year ahead,” said Adam.
“Well, maybe that’s not
what he’s cut out for. I didn’t go to college. Did you?” “No,” said Adam. “I
went into the army.” “Well,
I’ll bet you
wouldn’t take a good bit for the experience.”
Adam stood up slowly
and picked his hat from the deer horns on the wall. “Good night, Henry,” he said.
pondered his responsibility. As he passed Reynaud’s Bakery
Lee came out,
carrying a golden loaf of French bread.
“I have a hunger for
some garlic bread,” Lee said. “I like it with steak,”
“We’re having steak. Was there any mail?” “I forgot to look in the box.”
They entered the house
and Lee went to the kitchen. In a moment Adam followed him and sat at the kitchen table.
“Lee,” he said,
“suppose we send a boy to the army and he is killed, are we responsible?”
“Go on,” said Lee. “I
would rather have the whole thing at once.”
“Well, suppose there’s a slight doubt that the boy should be in the army and we send him and he gets killed.” “I see. Is it responsibility
or blame that bothers you?” “I don’t want blame.” “Sometimes
responsibility is worse. It doesn’t carry any pleasant egotism.”
“I was thinking about
that time when Sam Hamilton and you and I had a long discussion about a word,” said Adam. “What was that word?”
“Now I see. The word was timshel.” “Timshel— and you said
“I said that word carried a man’s greatness if he
wanted to take advantage of it.”
Hamilton felt good about it.” “It set him free,” said
Lee. “It gave him the right to be a man, separate from every other man.”
“All great and precious things are lonely.” “What
is the word
Adam looked forward to Thanksgiving
would come home from college. Even though Aron had been away such a short time Adam had forgotten him and changed him the way any man changes someone he loves. With Aron gone, the silences were the result of his going, and every little painful event was somehow tied to his absence. Adam found himself talking and boasting about his son, telling people who weren’t very interested how smart Aron was and how he had jumped a year in
school. He thought it would be a good thing to have a real celebration at Thanksgiving to let the boy know his effort was appreciated.
Aron lived in a furnished room in Palo Alto, and he walked the mile to and from the campus every day. He was miserable. What he had expected to find at the university had been vague and beautiful. His picture— never really inspected—had been of clean-eyed young men and immaculate girls, all in
academic robes and
converging on a white temple on the crown of a wooded hill
in the evening. Their faces were shining and dedicated and their voices rose in chorus and it was never any time but evening. He had no idea where he had got his picture of academic life— perhaps
from the Doré
Inferno with its massed and radiant
Stanford University was not like that. A formal square of brown sandstone blocks set down in a hayfield; a church
with an Italian mosaic front; classrooms of varnished pine; and the great world of struggle and anger re-enacted in the rise and fall of fraternities. And those bright angels were youths in dirty corduroy
learning the small vices of their fathers.
Aron, who had not
known he had a home, was nauseatingly homesick. He did not try to learn the life around him or to enter it. He found the natural noise and fuss
and horseplay of
after his dream. He left the college dormitory for a dreary furnished room where he could decorate another dream which had only now come into being. In the new and neutral hiding place he cut the university out, went to his classes and left as soon as he
could, to live in his new-found memories. The house next to Reynaud’s Bakery
became warm and dear, Lee the epitome of friend and counselor, his father the cool, dependable
godhead, his brother clever and delightful, and Abra— well, of Abra he made his immaculate
having created her, fell in love with her. At night when his studying was over he went to his nightly letter to her as one goes to a scented bath.
And as Abra became more radiant,
more pure and
beautiful, Aron took
increasing joy in a concept of his own wickedness. In a
frenzy he poured joyous abjectness on paper to send to her, and he went to bed purified, as a man is after sexual love. He set down every evil thought he had and renounced it. The results were love letters that dripped with longing and by their high tone made Abra very uneasy. She could not know that Aron’s sexuality had taken a not unusual channel.
He had made a mistake.
He could admit the mistake but as yet he could not reverse himself. He made a compact with himself. At Thanksgiving he would go home, and then he would be sure. He might never come back. He remembered that
Abra had once suggested that they go to live on the ranch, and that became his dream.
He remembered the great oaks and the clear living air, the clean sage-laced wind from the hills and the brown oak leaves scudding. He could
see Abra there,
standing under a tree, waiting for him to come in from his work. And it was evening.
There, after work of course, he could live in purity and peace with the world, cut off by the little draw. He could hide from ugliness—in the evening.