Chapter no 6

East of Eden

After Adam joined the army and

Cyrus moved to

Washington, Charles lived alone on the farm. He boasted about getting himself a wife, but he did not go about doing it by the usual process of meeting girls, taking them to dances, testing their virtues or otherwise,

and finally

slipping feebly into marriage. The truth of it was that Charles was abysmally timid of girls. And, like most shy men, he satisfied his normal needs in the anonymity of the prostitute. There is great safety for a shy man with a whore. Having been paid for, and in advance, she has become a commodity, and a shy man can be gay with her and even brutal to her. Also, there is none of the horror of the possible turndown which shrivels the guts of timid men.

The arrangement was

simple and reasonably secret. The owner of the inn kept three rooms on his top floor for transients, which he

rented to girls for two-week periods. At the end of two weeks a new set of girls took their place. Mr. Hallam, the innkeeper, had no part in the arrangement. He could almost say with truth that he didn’t know anything about it. He simply collected five times the normal rent for his three rooms.

The girls were

assigned, procured, moved, disciplined, and robbed by a whoremaster named Edwards, who lived in Boston. His girls moved in a slow circuit among the small towns, never staying anywhere more than two


It was an

extremely workable system. A girl was not in town long enough to cause remark either by citizen or town marshal.

They stayed pretty much in the rooms and avoided public places. They were forbidden on pain of beating to drink or make noise or to fall in love with anyone. Meals were served in their rooms, and the clients

were carefully

screened. No drunken man was permitted to go up to them. Every six months each girl was given one month of

vacation to get drunk and raise hell. On the job, let a girl be disobedient to the rules, and Mr. Edwards personally

stripped her, gagged her,


horsewhipped her within an inch of her life. If she did it again she found herself in jail, charged with vagrancy and public prostitution.

The two-week stands

had another advantage. Many of the girls were diseased, and a girl had nearly always gone away by the time her gift had incubated in a client. There was no one for a man

to get mad at. Mr. Hallam knew nothing about it, and Mr. Edwards never appeared publicly in his business capacity. He had a very good thing in his circuit.

The girls were all pretty much alike—big, healthy, lazy, and dull. A man could hardly tell there had been a change. Charles Trask made it a habit to go to the inn at least once every two weeks, to creep up to the top floor, do his quick business, and return to the bar to get mildly drunk.

The Trask house had

never been gay, but lived in only by Charles it took on a gloomy, rustling decay. The lace curtains were gray, the

floors, although swept, grew sticky and dank. The kitchen was

lacquered—walls, windows, and ceiling—with grease from the frying pans.

The constant scrubbing

by the wives who had lived

there and the biannual deep-seated scourging had kept the dirt down. Charles rarely did

more than sweep. He gave up sheets on his bed and slept between blankets. What good to clean the house when there was no one to see it? Only on the nights he went to the inn did he wash himself and put on clean clothes.

Charles developed a

restlessness that got him out

at dawn. He worked the farm mightily because he was lonely. Coming in from his work, he gorged himself on fried food and went to bed and to sleep in the resulting torpor.

His dark face took on the serious expressionlessness of a man who is nearly always alone. He missed his brother more than he missed his mother

and father.

He remembered quite

inaccurately the time before Adam went away as the happy time, and he wanted it to come again.

During the years he was never sick, except of course for the chronic indigestion which was universal, and still is, with men who live alone, cook for themselves, and eat in solitude. For this he took a powerful purge called Father George’s Elixir of Life.

One accident he did

have in the third year of his aloneness. He was digging out rocks and sledding them to the stone wall. One large boulder was difficult to move. Charles pried at it with a long iron bar, and the rock bucked and rolled back again and again. Suddenly he lost his temper. The little smile came on his face, and he fought the stone as though it were a

man, in silent fury. He drove his bar deep behind it and threw his whole weight back. The bar slipped and its upper end

crashed against his

forehead. For a few moments he lay unconscious in the field and then he rolled over and staggered, half-blinded, to the house. There was a long torn welt on his forehead from hairline to a point between his eyebrows. For a few weeks his head was bandaged over a draining infection, but that did not worry him. In that day pus was. thought to be benign, a proof that a wound was

healing properly. When the wound did heal, it left a long and crinkled scar, and while most scar tissue is lighter than the

surrounding skin,

Charles’ scar turned dark brown. Perhaps the bar had forced iron rust under the skin and made a kind of tattoo.

The wound had not

worried Charles, but the scar did. It looked like a long fingermark

laid on his

forehead. He inspected it often in the little mirror by the stove. He combed his hair down over his forehead to

conceal as much of it as he could. He conceived a shame for his scar; he hated his scar. He became restless when anyone looked at it, and fury rose in him if any question was asked about it. In a letter to his brother he put down his feeling about it.

“It looks,” he wrote,

“like somebody marked me like a cow. The damn thing gets darker. By the time you get home it will maybe be black. All I need is one going the other way and I would look like a Papist on Ash Wednesday. I don’t know why it bothers me. I got plenty other scars. It just seems like I was marked. And when I go into town, like to

the inn, why, people are always looking at it. I can hear them talking about it when they don’t know I can hear. I don’t know why they’re so damn curious about it. It gets so I don’t feel like going in town at all.”

Adam was discharged in 1885 and started to beat his way home. In appearance he had changed little. There was no military carriage about him. The cavalry didn’t act that way. Indeed some units took pride in a sloppy posture.

Adam felt that he was sleepwalking. It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate

it. In the

morning he

awakened on a split second and lay waiting for reveille. His calves missed the hug of leggings and his throat felt naked without its tight collar. He arrived in Chicago, and there, for no reason, rented a furnished room for a week, stayed in it for two days, went to Buffalo,” changed his mind, and moved to Niagara Falls. He didn’t want to go home and he put it off as long as possible. Home was not a pleasant place in his mind.

The kind of feelings he had had there were dead in him,

and he had a reluctance to bring them to life. He watched the falls by the hour. Their roar stupefied and hypnotized him.

One evening he felt a crippling loneliness for the close men in barracks and tent. His impulse was to rush into a crowd for warmth, any crowd. The first crowded public place he could find was a little bar, thronged and smoky.

He sighed with

pleasure, almost nestled in the human clot the way a cat nestles into a woodpile. He ordered whisky and drank it and felt warm and good. He

did not see or hear. He simply absorbed the contact.

As it grew late and the

men began to drift away, he became fearful of the time when he would have to go home. Soon he was alone with the bartender, who was rubbing and rubbing the mahogany of the bar and trying with his eyes and his manner to get Adam to go. “I’ll have one more,”

Adam said.

The bartender set the

bottle out. Adam noticed him for the first time. He had a strawberry

mark on his


“I’m a stranger in these parts,” said Adam. “That’s what we mostly

get at the falls,” the bartender said.

“I’ve been in the army. Cavalry.”

“Yeah!” the bartender said.

Adam felt suddenly that

he had to impress this man, had to get under his skin some

way. “Fighting

Indians,” he said. “Had some great times.”

The man did not answer him.

“My brother has a mark on his head.”

The bartender touched

the strawberry mark with his fingers. “Birthmark,” he said. “Gets bigger every year. Your brother got one?”

“His came from a cut. He wrote me about it.” “You notice this one of mine looks like a cat?” “Sure it does.”

“That’s my nickname,

Cat. Had it all my life. They say my old lady must of been scared by a cat when she was having me.”

“I’m on my way home. Been away a long time. Won’t you have a drink?” “Thanks. Where you staying?”

“Mrs. May’s boarding house.”

“I know her. What they

tell is she fills you up with soup so you can’t eat much meat.”

“I guess there are tricks

to every trade,” said Adam. “I guess that’s right.

There’s sure plenty in mine.” “I bet that’s true,” said Adam.

“But the one trick I need

I haven’t got. I wisht I knew that one.”

“What is it?”

“How the hell to get you

to go home and let me close up.”

Adam stared at him, stared at him and did not speak.

“It’s a



bartender said uneasily. “I guess I’ll go home in

the morning,” said Adam. “I mean my real home.” “Good

luck,” the

bartender said.

Adam walked through

the dark town, increasing his speed as though his loneliness sniffed along behind him. The sagging front steps of his boarding house creaked a warning as he climbed them. The hall was gloomed with the dot of yellow light from an oil lamp turned down so low that it jerked expiringly.

The landlady stood in

her open doorway and her

nose made a shadow to the bottom of her chin. Her cold eyes followed Adam as do the eyes

of a


portrait, and she listened with her nose for the whisky that was in him.

“Good night,” said Adam.

She did not answer him. At the top of the first flight he looked back. Her

head was raised, and now her chin made a shadow on her throat and her eyes had no pupils.

His room smelled of

dust dampened and dried many times. He picked a match from his block and scratched it on the side of the block. He lighted the shank of candle

in the


candlestick and regarded the bed—as

spineless as


hammock and covered with a dirty patchwork quilt, the cotton batting spilling from the edges.

The porch steps

complained again, and Adam

knew the woman would be standing in her doorway ready to spray inhospitality on the new arrival.

Adam sat down in a straight chair and put his elbows on his knees and supported his chin in his hands. A roomer down the hall

began a patient,

continuing cough against the quiet night.

And Adam knew he

could not go home. He had heard old soldiers tell of doing what he was going to do.

“I just couldn’t stand it. Didn’t have no place to go.

Didn’t know nobody.

Wandered around and pretty soon I got in a panic like a kid, and first thing I knowed I’m begging the sergeant to let me back in—like he was doing me a favor.”

Back in Chicago, Adam

re-enlisted and asked to be assigned to his old regiment. On the train going west the men of his squadron seemed very dear and desirable.

While he waited to

change trains in Kansas City, he heard his name called and a message was shoved into his hand—orders to report to Washington to the office of the Secretary of War. Adam

in his five years had absorbed rather than learned never to wonder about an order. To an enlisted man the high far gods in Washington were crazy, and if a soldier wanted to keep his sanity he thought about generals as little as possible.

In due course Adam

gave his name to a clerk and went to sit in an anteroom.

His father found him there. It took Adam a moment to recognize Cyrus, and much longer to get used to him.

Cyrus had become a great man. He dressed like a great man—black broadcloth coat and trousers, wide black hat, overcoat with a velvet collar, ebony cane which he made to

seem a sword. And Cyrus conducted himself like a great man. His speech was slow and mellow, measured and unexcited, his gestures were wide, and new teeth gave him a vulpine smile out of all proportion to his emotion.

After Adam had realized

that this was his father he was still puzzled. Suddenly he looked down—no wooden leg. The leg was straight, bent at the knee, and the foot was clad in a polished kid congress gaiter. When he moved there was a limp, but

not a clumping wooden-legged limp. Cyrus saw the look.

“Mechanical,” he


“Works on a hinge. Got a spring. Don’t even limp when I set my mind to it. I’ll show it to you when I take it off.

Come along with me.” Adam said, “I’m under orders, sir. I’m to report to Colonel Wells.”

“I know you are. I told Wells to issue the orders. Come along.”

Adam said uneasily, “If you don’t mind, sir, I think I’d better report to Colonel Wells.”

His father reversed

himself. “I was testing you,” he said grandly. “I wanted to see whether the army has any discipline these days. Good

boy. I knew it would be good for you. You’re a man and a soldier, my boy.”

“I’m under orders, sir,” said Adam. This man was a stranger to him. A faint distaste

arose in Adam.

Something was not true. And the speed with which doors opened

straight to

the Colonel, the obsequious

respect of that officer, the words, “The Secretary will see you now, sir,” did not

remove Adam’s feeling. “This is my son, a

private soldier, Mr. Secretary

—just as I was—a private soldier in the United States Army.”

“I was discharged a

corporal, sir,” said Adam. He hardly heard the exchange of compliments.

He was

thinking, This is the Secretary of War. Can’t he see that this isn’t the way my father is?




happened to him? It’s funny the Secretary can’t see it.

They walked to the small hotel where Cyrus

lived, and on the way Cyrus pointed out the sights, the buildings,

the spots of history, with the

expansiveness of a lecturer. “I live in a hotel,” he said. “I’ve thought of getting a house, but I’m on the move so much it wouldn’t hardly pay. I’m all over the country most of the time.”

The hotel clerk couldn’t see either. He bowed to

Cyrus, called him “Senator,” and indicated that he would give Adam a room if he had to throw someone out.

“Send a bottle of whisky to my room, please.”


can send some

chipped ice if you like.” “Ice!” said Cyrus. “My

son is a soldier.” He rapped his leg with his stick and it gave forth a hollow sound. “I have

been a


private soldier. What do we want ice for?”

Adam was amazed at Cyrus’s accommodations. He had not only a bedroom but a

sitting room beside it, and the toilet was in a closet right in

the bedroom.

Cyrus sat down in a deep chair and sighed. He pulled up his trouser leg, and Adam saw the contraption of iron and leather and hard wood.

Cyrus unlaced the leather sheath that held it on his

stump and stood the travesty-on-flesh beside his chair. “It gets to pinching pretty bad,”

he said.

With the leg off, his

father became himself again, the self Adam remembered. He had experienced the beginning of contempt, but now the childhood fear and respect and animosity came back to him, so that he seemed a little boy testing his father’s immediate mood to escape trouble.

Cyrus made his

preparations, drank


whisky, and loosened his collar.

He faced Adam. “Well?”


“Why did you re-enlist?” “I—I don’t know, sir. I just wanted to.”

“You don’t like the army, Adam.” “No, sir.”

“Why did you go back?” “I didn’t want to go home.”

Cyrus sighed and rubbed the tips of his fingers on the arms of his chair. “Are you

going to stay in the army?” he asked.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“I can get you into West Point. I have influence. I can get you discharged so you can enter West Point.”

“I don’t want to go there.”

“Are you defying me?” Cyrus asked quietly.

Adam took a long time to answer, and his mind

sought escape before he said, “Yes, sir.”

Cyrus said, “Pour me

some whisky, son,” and when he had it he continued, “I wonder if you know how

much influence I really have. I can throw the Grand Army at any candidate like a sock. Even the President likes to know what I think about public matters. I can get senators defeated and I can pick

appointments like

apples. I can make men and I can destroy men. Do you know that?”

Adam knew more than

that. He knew that Cyrus was defending

himself with

threats. “Yes, sir. I’ve heard.” “I

could get


assigned to Washington— assigned to me even—teach you your way about.”

“I’d rather go back to

my regiment, sir.” He saw the shadow of loss darken his father’s face.

“Maybe I

made a

mistake. You’ve learned the dumb resistance of a soldier.” He sighed. “I’ll get you ordered to your regiment.

You’ll rot in barracks.” “Thank you, sir.” After a pause Adam asked, “Why don’t you bring Charles here?”



Charles is better where he is

—better where he is.” Adam remembered his father’s tone and how he

looked. And he had plenty of time to remember, because he did rot in barracks. He remembered that Cyrus was lonely and alone—and knew it.

Charles had looked forward to Adam’s return after five years. He had painted the house and the barn, and as the time approached he had a woman in to clean the house, to clean it to the bone.

She was a clean, mean

old woman. She looked at the dust-gray rotting curtains,

threw them out, and made new ones. She dug grease out of the stove that had been there since Charles’ mother died. And she leached the walls of a brown shiny nastiness

deposited by

cooking fat and kerosene lamps. She pickled the floors with lye, soaked the blankets in sal soda, complaining the whole time to herself, “Men

—dirty animals. Pigs is clean compared. Rot in their own juice. Don’t see how no woman ever marries them.

Stink like measles. Look at oven—pie

juice from


Charles had moved into a shed where his nostrils

would not be assailed by the immaculate but painful smells of lye and soda and ammonia and yellow soap. He did, however, get the impression that she didn’t approve of his housekeeping. When finally she grumbled away from the shining

house Charles

remained in the shed. He wanted to keep the house clean for Adam. In the shed where he slept were the tools of the farm and the tools for their repair and maintenance. Charles found that he could cook his fried and boiled

meals more quickly and efficiently on the forge than he could on the kitchen stove. The bellows forced quick flaring heat from the coke. A man didn’t have to wait for a stove

to heat up.


wondered why he had never thought of it before.

Charles waited for

Adam, and Adam did not come. Perhaps Adam was ashamed to write. It was Cyrus who told Charles in an angry letter about Adam’s reenlistment

against his

wishes. And Cyrus indicated that, in some future, Charles could

visit him in

Washington, but he never asked him again.

Charles moved back to

the house and lived in a kind of savage filth, taking a satisfaction in overcoming the work

of the

grumbling woman.

It was over a year before Adam wrote to Charles—a letter

of embarrassed newsiness building


courage to say, “I don’t know why I signed again. It was like somebody else doing it. Write soon and tell me how you are.”

Charles did not reply until he had received four

anxious letters, and then he replied coolly, “I didn’t hardly expect you anyway,” and he went on with a detailed account of farm and animals.

Time had got in its work. After that Charles

wrote right after New Year’s and received a letter from

Adam written right after New Year’s. They had grown so apart that there was little mutual reference and no questions.

Charles began to keep one slovenly woman after

another. When they got on his nerves he threw them out the way he would sell a pig. He didn’t like them and had no interest in whether or not they liked him. He grew away from the village. His contacts were only with the inn and the postmaster. The village people might denounce his manner of life, but one thing he had which balanced his ugly life even in their eyes.

The farm had never been so well run. Charles cleared

land, built up his walls, improved his drainage, and added a hundred acres to the farm. More than that, he was planting tobacco, and a long new tobacco barn stood impressively

behind the

house. For these things he kept the respect of his neighbors. A farmer cannot think too much evil of a good farmer. Charles was spending most of his money and all of his energy on the farm.

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