Chapter no 54

East of Eden

The winter seemed reluctant to let go its bite. It hung on cold and wet and windy long after its time. And people repeated, “It’s those damned big guns they’re shooting off in

France—spoiling the

weather in the whole world.”

The grain was slow coming up in the Salinas

Valley, and the wildflowers came so late that some people thought they wouldn’t come at all.

We knew—or at least

we were confident—that on May Day, when all the Sunday School picnics took place in the Alisal, the wild azaleas that grew in the skirts of the stream would be in bloom. They were a part of May Day.

May Day was cold. The picnic was drenched out of existence by a freezing rain, and there wasn’t an-open blossom on the azalea trees. Two weeks later they still weren’t out.

Cal hadn’t known it

would be like this when he

had made azaleas the signal for his picnic, but once the symbol was set it could not be violated.

The Ford sat in

Windham’s shed, its tires pumped up, and with two new dry cells to make it start easily on Bat. Lee was alerted to make sandwiches when the day came, and he got tired of waiting and stopped buying sandwich bread every two days.

“Why don’t you just go anyway?” he said.

“I can’t,” said Cal. “I said azaleas.”

“How will you know?”

“The Silacci boys live

out there, and they come into school every day. They say it will be a week or ten days.” “Oh, Lord!” said Lee. “Don’t

overtrain your picnic.” Adam’s health was slowly



numbness was going from his hand. And he could read a little—a little more each day. “It’s only when I get

tired that the letters jump,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t get glasses to ruin my eyes. I

knew my eyes were all right.”

Lee nodded and was glad. He had gone to San

Francisco for the books he needed and had written for a number of separates. He knew about as much as was known about the anatomy of the brain and the symptoms and severities of lesion and thrombus. He had studied and asked questions with the same unwavering intensity as when he had trapped and pelted and cured a Hebrew verb. Dr. H. C. Murphy had got to know Lee very well and

had gone from a

professional impatience with a Chinese servant to a genuine admiration for a scholar. Dr. Murphy had even borrowed some of Lee’s news separates and reports on diagnosis and practice. He told Dr. Edwards, “That Chink knows more about the pathology

of cerebral

hemorrhage than I do, and I bet as much as you do.” He spoke

with a kind of

affectionate anger that this should be so. The medical profession is unconsciously

irritated by lay knowledge. When

Lee reported

Adam’s improvement he said, “It does seem to me that the absorption is continuing—” “I had a patient,” Dr.

Murphy said, and he told a hopeful story.

“I’m always afraid of recurrence,” said Lee. “That you have to leave

with the Almighty,” said Dr. Murphy. “We can’t patch an artery like an inner tube. By the way, how do you get him to let you take his blood pressure?”

“I bet on his and he bets

on mine. It’s better than horse racing.”

“Who wins?” “Well, I could,” said

Lee. “But I don’t. That would spoil the game—and the chart.”

“How do you keep him from getting excited?” “It’s my own invention,” said

Lee. “I

call it

conversational therapy.” “Must take all your time.”

“It does,” said Lee.


On May 28, 1918, American troops carried out their first important



World War I. The First Division, General Bullard commanding, was ordered to capture

the village of

Cantigny. The village, on high ground, dominated the Avre River valley. It was defended by trenches, heavy machine guns, and artillery. The front was a little over a mile wide.

At 6:45 A.M., May 28,

1918, the attack was begun after one hour of artillery preparation. Troops involved were the 28th Infantry (Col. Ely), one battalion of the 18th Infantry (Parker), a company

of the First Engineers, the divisional


(Summerall), and a support of French tanks and flame throwers.

The attack was


complete success. American troops entrenched on the new line

and repulsed two powerful German



First Division

received the congratulations of Clemenceau, Foch, and Pétain.


It was the end of May before the Silacci boys brought the news that the salmon-pink blossoms of the azaleas were breaking free. It was on a Wednesday, as the nine o’clock bell was ringing, that they told him.

Cal rushed to


English classroom, and just as Miss Norris took her seat on the little stage he waved his handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. Then he went down to the boys’ toilet and

waited until he heard through the wall the flush of water on the girlside. He went out through the basement door, walked close to the red brick wall, slipped around the pepper tree, and, once out of sight of the school, walked slowly along until Abra caught up with him. “When’d

they come

out?” she asked. “This morning.” “Shall

we wait till


He looked up at the gay

yellow sun, the first earth-warming sun of the year. “Do

you want to wait?” “No,” she said. “Neither do I.”

They broke into a run— bought bread at Reynaud’s and joggled Lee into action. Adam heard loud voices and looked into the kitchen. “What’s the hullabaloo?” he asked.

“We’re going on a picnic,” said Cal. “Isn’t it a school day?” Abra said, “Sure it is. But it’s a holiday too.” Adam smiled at her.

“You’re pink as a rose,” he said.

Abra cried, “Why don’t you come along with us? We’re going to the Alisal to get azaleas.”

“Why, I’d like to,”

Adam said, and then, “No, I can’t. I promised to go down to the ice plant. We’re putting in some new tubing. It’s a beautiful day.”

“We’ll bring you some azaleas,” Abra said.

“I like them. Well, have a good time.”

When he was gone Cal said, “Lee, why don’t you come with us?”

Lee looked sharply at him. “I hadn’t thought you were a fool,” he said. “Come on!” Abra cried. “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Lee.


It’s a pleasant little stream that gurgles through the

Alisal against the Gabilan Mountains on the east of the Salinas Valley. The water bumbles over round stones and washes the polished roots of the trees that hold it in.

The smell of azaleas and the sleepy smell of sun working

with chlorophyll

filled the air. On the bank the Ford car sat, still breathing softly from its overheating.

The back seat was piled with azalea branches.

Cal and Abra sat on the bank among the luncheon papers. They dangled their feet in the water.

“They always


before you get them home,” said Cal.

“But they’re such a good excuse, Cal,” she said. “If you won’t I guess I’ll have to



She reached over and took his hand. “That,” she said.

“I was afraid to.” “Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“I wasn’t.”

“I guess girls aren’t afraid of near as many things.”

“I guess not.”

“Are you ever afraid?” “Sure,” she said. “I was afraid of you after you said I

wet my pants.” “That was mean,” he

said. “I wonder why I did it,” and suddenly he was silent.

Her fingers tightened around his hand. “I know

what you’re thinking. I don’t want you to think about that.” Cal looked at the curling water and turned a round brown stone with his toe.

Abra said, “You think you’ve got it all, don’t you? You think you attract bad things—”


“Well, I’m going to tell

you something. My father’s in trouble.”

“How in trouble?”

“I haven’t been listening at doors but I’ve heard

enough. He’s not sick. He’s scared.

He’s done


He turned his head. “What?”

“I think he’s taken some money from his company. He doesn’t know whether his partners are going to put him in jail or let him try to pay it back.”

“How do you know?” “I heard them shouting

in his bedroom where he’s sick. And my mother started the phonograph to drown them out.”

He said, “You aren’t making it up?”

“No. I’m not making it


He shuffled near and put

his head against her shoulder and his arm crept timidly around her waist.

“You see, you’re not the only one—” She looked sideways at his face. “Now I’m afraid,” she said weakly. 5

At three o’clock in the afternoon Lee was sitting at his desk, turning over the pages of a seed catalogue.

The pictures of sweet peas were in color.

“Now these would look nice on the back fence.

They’d screen off the slough. I wonder if there’s enough sun.” He looked up at the sound of his own voice and

smiled to himself. More and more he caught himself speaking aloud when the house was empty.

“It’s age,” he said aloud. “The slowing thoughts and

—” He stopped and grew rigid for a moment. “That’s funny—listening


something. I wonder whether I left the teakettle on the gas.



He listened again. “Thank

heaven I’m not superstitious. I could hear ghosts walk if I’d let myself. I could—”

The front doorbell rang.

“There it is. That’s what

I was listening for. Let it ring. I’m not going to be led around by feelings. Let it ring.”

But it did not ring again.

A black weariness fell

on Lee, a hopelessness that pressed his shoulders down. He laughed at himself. “I can go

and find it’s an

advertisement under the door or I can sit here and let my silly old mind tell me death is on the doorstep. Well, I want the advertisement.”

Lee sat in the living room and looked at the

envelope in his lap. And suddenly he spat at it. “All right,” he said. “I’m coming

—goddam you,” and he ripped it open and in a moment laid it on the table and turned it over with the message down.

He stared between his knees at the floor. “No,” he said, “that’s not my right.

Nobody has the right to remove any single experience from another. Life and death are promised. We have a right to pain.”

His stomach contracted.

“I haven’t got the courage. I’m a cowardly yellow belly. I couldn’t stand it.”

He went

into the

bathroom and measured three teaspoons of elixir of bromide into a glass and added water until the red medicine was pink. He carried the glass to the living room and put it on the table. He folded the telegram and shoved it in his pocket. He said aloud, “I hate a coward! God, how I hate a coward!” His hands were shaking

and a cold

perspiration dampened his forehead.

At four o’clock he heard Adam


at the

doorknob. Lee licked his lips. He stood up and walked slowly to the hall. He carried the glass of pink fluid and his hand was steady.

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