Chapter no 8

East of Eden

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places. They are accidents and no one’s

fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations

from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A

man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. Sometimes when we are little we imagine how it would be to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feeling birds have. No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem


To a

criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.

It is my belief that Cathy Ames was born with the tendencies, or lack of them, which drove and forced her all of her life. Some balance wheel

was misweighted,

some gear out of ratio. She was not like other people, never was from birth. And just as a cripple may learn to utilize his lack so that he becomes more effective in a

limited field than the

uncrippled, so did Cathy, using her difference, make a painful and bewildering stir in her world.

There was a time when a girl like Cathy would have been called possessed by the devil. She would have been exorcised to cast out the evil

spirit, and if after many trials that did not work, she would have been burned as a witch for

the good of the

community. The one thing

that may not be forgiven a witch is her ability to distress people, to make them restless and uneasy and even envious.

As though nature

concealed a trap, Cathy had from the first a face of innocence. Her hair was gold and lovely; wide-set hazel eyes with upper lids that drooped

made her look

mysteriously sleepy. Her nose was delicate and thin, and her cheekbones high and wide, sweeping down to a small chin so that her face was heart-shaped. Her mouth was

well shaped and well lipped but abnormally small—what used to be called a rosebud. Her ears were very little, without

lobes, and they

pressed so close to her head that even with her hair combed up they made no silhouette. They were thin flaps sealed against her head.

Cathy always had a

child’s figure even after she was grown, slender, delicate arms and hands—tiny hands. Her breasts never developed very

much. Before her

puberty the nipples turned inward. Her mother had to manipulate them out when they

became painful in

Cathy’s tenth year. Her body

was a boy’s body, narrow-hipped, straight-legged, but her ankles were thin and

straight without being

slender. Her feet were small and round and stubby, with fat insteps almost like little hoofs. She was a pretty child and she became a pretty woman.

Her voice was

huskily soft, and it could be so sweet as to be irresistible. But there must have been some steel cord in her throat, for Cathy’s voice could cut like a file when she wished. Even as a child she had some

quality that made

people look at her, then look away, then look back at her, troubled

at something

foreign. Something looked out of her eyes, and was never there when one looked again. She moved quietly and talked little, but she could enter

no room without

causing everyone to turn toward her.

She made people uneasy

but not so that they wanted to go away from her. Men and women wanted to inspect her, to be close to her, to try to find

what caused the

disturbance she distributed so subtly. And since this had always been so, Cathy did not find it strange.

Cathy was different from other children in many ways, but one thing in particular set her apart. Most children

abhor difference. They want to look, talk, dress, and act exactly like all of the others. If the style of dress is an absurdity, it is pain and sorrow to a child not to wear that absurdity. If necklaces of pork chops were accepted, it would be a sad child who could not wear pork chops.

And this slavishness to the group normally extends into every game, every practice, social or otherwise. It is a protective coloration children utilize for their safety.

Cathy had none of this.

She never conformed in dress or

conduct. She “wore

whatever she wanted to. The result was that quite often other children imitated her.

As she grew older the

group, the herd, which is any collection of children, began to sense what adults felt, that there was something foreign about Cathy. After a while only one person at a time associated with her. Groups of boys and girls avoided her as though she carried a nameless danger.

Cathy was a liar, but she did not lie the way most children do. Hers was no daydream lying, when the

thing imagined is told and, to make it seem more real, told as real. That is just ordinary deviation

from external

reality. I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar—if he is financially fortunate.

Cathy’s lies were never innocent. Their purpose was to escape punishment, or work, or responsibility, and they were used for profit.

Most liars are tripped up either because they forget

what they have told or because the lie is suddenly faced with an incontrovertible truth. But Cathy did not forget her lies, and she developed the most effective method of lying. She stayed close enough to the truth so that one could never be sure. She knew two other methods also—either to interlard her lies with truth or to tell a truth as though it were a lie. If one is accused of a lie and it turns out to be the truth, there is a backlog that will last a long time and protect a number of untruths.

Since Cathy was an only child her mother had no close contrast in the family. She thought all children were like

her own. And since all parents are worriers she was convinced that all her friends had the same problems.

Cathy’s father was not

so sure. He operated a small tannery

in a

town in

Massachusetts, which made a comfortable, careful living if he worked very hard. Mr.

Ames came in contact with other children away from his home and he felt that Cathy was not like other children. It was a matter more felt than known. He was uneasy about his daughter but he could not have said why.

Nearly everyone in the world has appetites and impulses, trigger emotions, islands of selfishness, lusts just beneath the surface. And most people either hold such things in check or indulge them secretly. Cathy knew not only these impulses in others but how to use them for her own gain. It is quite possible that she did not believe

in any other

tendencies in humans, for while she was preternaturally alert in some directions she was completely blind in others.

Cathy learned when she

was very young that sexuality with

all its

attendant yearnings and pains,

jealousies and taboos, is the most

disturbing impulse

humans have. And in that day it was even more disturbing than it is now, because the subject was unmentionable and unmentioned. Everyone concealed that little hell in himself,

while publicly

pretending it did not exist—

and when he was caught up in it he was completely helpless. Cathy learned that by the manipulation and use of this one part of people she could gain and keep power over nearly everyone. It was at once a weapon and a threat. It was irresistible. And since the blind

helplessness seems

never to have fallen on Cathy, it is probable that she had very little of the impulse herself and indeed felt a contempt for those who did.

And when you think of it in one way, she was right.

What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and

trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster.

At ten Cathy knew

something of the power of the sex impulse and began coldly to experiment with it. She planned everything coldly, foreseeing difficulties and preparing for them.

The sex play of children has

always gone on.

Everyone, I guess, who is not abnormal has foregathered with little girls in some dim leafy place, in the bottom of a

manger, under a willow, in a culvert under a road—or at least has dreamed of doing so. Nearly all parents are faced

with the


sooner or later, and then the child is lucky if the parent remembers

his own

childhood. In the time of Cathy’s childhood, however, it was harder. The parents, denying it in themselves, were horrified to find it in their children.

On a spring morning when with late-surviving dew the

young grass bristled under the sun, when the warmth crept into the ground and pushed the yellow dandelions up,

Cathy’s mother finished

hanging the washed clothes on the line. The Ameses lived on the edge of town, and behind their house were barn and carriage house, vegetable garden and fenced paddock for two horses.

Mrs. Ames remembered having seen Cathy stroll away toward the barn. She called for her, and when there was no answer she thought she might have been mistaken.

She was about to go into the house when she heard a

giggle from the carriage house. “Cathy!” she called. There was no answer. An uneasiness came over her. She reached back in her mind for the sound of the giggle. It had not been Cathy’s voice.

Cathy was not a giggler.

There is no knowing

how or why dread comes on a parent. Of course many times apprehension arises when there is no reason for it at all. And it comes most often to the parents of only children, parents who have indulged in black dreams of loss.

Mrs. Ames stood still, listening. She heard soft secret voices and moved quietly toward the carriage house. The double doors were

closed. The murmur of voices came from inside, but she could not make out Cathy’s voice. She made a quick stride and pulled the doors open and the bright sun crashed inside. She froze, mouth open, at what she saw. Cathy lay on the floor, her skirts pulled up. She was naked to the waist, and beside her two boys about fourteen were kneeling. The shock of the sudden light froze them too. Cathy’s eyes were blank with terror. Mrs. Ames knew the boys, knew their parents.

Suddenly one of the

boys leaped up, darted past Mrs. Ames, and ran around the corner of the house. The other boy helplessly edged

away from the woman and with a cry rushed through the doorway. Mrs. Ames clutched at him, but her fingers slipped from his jacket and he was gone. She could hear his running-footsteps outside.

Mrs. Ames tried to speak and her voice was a croaking whisper. “Get up!”

Cathy stared blankly up at her and made no move.

Mrs. Ames saw that Cathy’s wrists were tied with a heavy rope. She screamed and flung herself down and fumbled at the knots. She carried Cathy into the house and put her to bed.

The family doctor, after he had examined Cathy,

could find no evidence that

she had been mistreated. “You can just thank God you got there in time,” he said over and over to Mrs. Ames. Cathy did not speak for a long time. Shock, the doctor called it. And when she did come out of the shock Cathy refused to talk. When she was questioned her eyes widened until the whites showed all around the pupils and her breathing stopped and her body grew rigid and her cheeks

reddened from

holding her breath.

The conference with the parents of the boys was attended by Dr. Williams. Mr. Ames was silent most of the

time. He carried the rope which

had been around

Cathy’s wrists. His eyes were puzzled. There were things he did not understand, but he did not bring them up.

Mrs. Ames settled down

to a steady hysteria. She had been there. She had seen. She was the final authority. And out of her hysteria a sadistic devil peered. She wanted blood. There was a kind of pleasure in her demands for punishment. The town, the country, must be protected.

She put it on that basis. She had arrived in time, thank God. But maybe the next time

she would not; and how would other mothers feel? And Cathy was only ten years old.

Punishments were more savage then than they are now. A man truly believed that

the whip was an

instrument of virtue. First singly and then together the

boys were whipped, whipped-to raw cuts.

Their crime was bad

enough, but the lies proved an evil that not even the whip could remove. And their defense

was from


beginning ridiculous. Cathy, they said, had started the whole thing, and they had each given her five cents.

They had not tied her hands. They said they remembered that she was playing with a rope.

Mrs. Ames said it first

and the whole town echoed it. “Do they mean to say she tied

her own hands? A ten-year-old child?”

If the boys had owned

up to the crime they might have escaped some of the punishment. Their refusal brought a torturing rage not only to their fathers, who did the whipping, but to the whole community. Both boys were sent to a house of

correction with the approval of their parents.

“She’s haunted by it,” Mrs.

Ames told the

neighbors. “If she could only talk about it, maybe she would get better. But when I ask her about it—it’s like it came right back to her and she goes into shock again.”

The Ameses never spoke

of it to her again. The subject was closed. Mr. Ames very soon forgot his haunting reservations. He would have felt bad if two boys were in the house of correction for something they did not do.

After Cathy had fully

recovered from her shock, boys and girls watched her from a distance and then moved closer, fascinated by her. She had no girl crushes, as is usual at twelve and thirteen. Boys did not want to take the chance of being ragged by their friends for walking home from school with her. But she exercised a powerful effect on both boys and girls. And if any boy could come on her alone, he found himself drawn to her by a force he could neither understand nor overcome.

She was dainty and very sweet and her voice was low. She went for long walks by herself, and it was a rare walk when some boy did not

blunder out of a woodlot and come on her by accident. And while

whispers went

scurrying about, there is no knowing what Cathy did. If anything

happened, only

vague whispers followed, and this in itself was unusual at an age when there are many secrets and none of them kept long enough to raise a cream. Cathy developed a little smile, just a hint of a smile.

She had a way of looking sideways and down that hinted to a lone boy of secrets he could share.

In her father’s mind

another question stirred, and he shoved it down deep and felt dishonest for thinking about it at all. Cathy had remarkable luck in finding things—a

gold charm,

money, a little silken purse, a silver cross with red stones said to be rubies. She found many things, and when her father

advertised in


weekly Courier about the cross no one ever claimed it. Mr.

William Ames,

Cathy’s father, was a covered

man. He rarely told the thoughts in his mind. He wouldn’t have dared so far to expose himself to the gaze of his neighbors. He kept the little flame of suspicion to himself. It was better if he didn’t know anything, safer, wiser,

and much more

comfortable. As for Cathy’s mother, she was so bound and twisted in a cocoon of gauzy half-lies,

warped truth,

suggestions, all planted by Cathy, that she would not have known a true thing if it had come to her.

Cathy grew more lovely all the

time. The delicate

blooming skin, the golden hair, the wide-set, modest, and yet promising eyes, the little mouth full of sweetness, caught attention and held it.

She finished the eight grades of grammar school with such a good record that her parents entered her in the small high school, although in that time it was not usual for a girl to go on with her studies. But Cathy said she wanted to be a teacher, which delighted her mother and father, for this was the one profession of

dignity open to a girl of a good but not well-to-do family. Parents took honor from a daughter who was a teacher.

Cathy was fourteen

when she entered high school. She had always been precious to her parents, but with her entrance into the rarities of algebra and Latin she climbed into clouds where her parents could not follow. They had lost her. They felt that she was translated to a higher order.

The teacher of Latin was a pale intense young man who had failed in divinity

school and yet had enough

education to

teach the

inevitable grammar, Caesar, Cicero. He was a quiet young man who warmed his sense of failure to his bosom. Deep in himself he felt that he had been rejected by God, and for cause.

For a time it was noticed that a flame leaped in James

Grew and some force glowed in his eyes. He was never seen with Cathy and no relationship

was even


James Grew became a man. He walked on his toes

and sang to himself. He wrote letters so persuasive that the directors of his divinity school looked favorably on readmitting him.

And then the flame went out. His shoulders, held so high and square, folded dejectedly. His eyes grew feverish

and his hands

twitched. He was seen in church at night, on his knees, moving his lips over prayers. He missed school and sent word that he was ill when it was known that he was walking all alone in the hills beyond the town.

One night, late, he

tapped on the door of the Ames house. Mr. Ames complained his way out of bed, lighted a candle, flung an overcoat over his nightgown, and went to the door. It was a wild and crazy-looking James Grew who stood before him, his eyes shining and his body one big shudder.

“I’ve got to see you,” he said hoarsely to Mr. Ames. “It’s after midnight,”

Mr. Ames said sternly. “I’ve got to see you

alone. Put on some clothes and come outside. I’ve got to talk to you.”

‘‘Young man, I think you’re drunk or sick. Go

home and get some sleep. It’s after midnight.”

“I can’t wait. I’ve got to talk to you.”

“Come down to the

tannery in the morning,” said Mr. Ames, and he closed the door firmly on the reeling caller

and stood inside, listening.

He heard the

wailing voice, “I can’t wait. I can’t wait,” and then the feet dragged slowly down the steps.

Mr. Ames shielded the candlelight away from his eyes with his cupped hand and went back to bed. He

thought he saw Cathy’s door close

very silently, but perhaps the leaping

candlelight had fooled his eyes, for a portiere seemed to move too.

“What in the world?” his wife demanded when he came back to the bedside.

Mr. Ames didn’t know

why he answered as he did— perhaps to save discussion. “A drunken man,” he said. “Got the wrong house.”

“I don’t know what the world is coming to,” said Mrs. Ames.

As he lay in the darkness after the light was out he saw the green circle left in his eyes by the candle flame, and in its whirling, pulsing frame he saw the frantic, beseeching eyes of James Grew. He didn’t go back to sleep for a long time.

In the morning a rumor ran

through the town,

distorted here and there, added to, but by afternoon the story clarified. The sexton had

found James Grew

stretched on the floor in front

of the altar. The whole top of his head was blown off.

Beside him lay a shotgun, and beside it the piece of stick with which he had pushed the trigger. Near him on the floor was a candlestick from the altar. One of the three candles was still burning. The other two had not been lighted.

And on the floor were two books, the hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer, one on top of the other. The way the sexton figured it, James Grew had propped the gun barrel on the books to bring it in line with his temple. The recoil of the discharge had thrown the shotgun off the books.

A number of people

remembered having heard an explosion

early in the

morning, before daylight.

James Grew left no letter. No one could figure why he had done it.

Mr. Ames’ first impulse

was to go to the coroner with his story of the midnight call. Then he thought, What good would it do? If I knew anything

it would be

different. But I don’t know a single thing. He had a sick

feeling in his stomach. He told himself over and over that it was not his fault. How could I have helped it? I don’t even know what he wanted.

He felt guilty and miserable. At dinner his wife talked about the suicide and he couldn’t eat. Cathy sat silent, but no more silent than usual. She ate with little dainty nips and wiped her mouth often on her napkin.

Mrs. Ames went over

the matter of the body and the gun in detail. “There’s one thing I meant to speak of,” she said. “That drunken man who came to the door last night—could that have been young Grew?”

“No,” he said quickly.

“Are you sure? Could you see him in the dark?” “I had a candle,” he said sharply.

“Didn’t look

anything like, had a big beard.”

“No need to snap at me,” she said. “I just wondered.” Cathy wiped her mouth,

and when she laid the napkin on her lap she was smiling.

Mrs. Ames turned to her daughter. “You saw him every day in school, Cathy. Has he seemed sad lately? Did you notice anything that might mean—”

Cathy looked down at her plate and then up. “I thought he was sick,” she

said. “Yes, he has looked bad. Everybody was talking in school today. And somebody

—I don’t remember who— said that Mr. Grew was in some kind of trouble in Boston. I didn’t hear what kind of trouble. We all liked Mr. Grew.” She wiped her lips delicately.

That was Cathy’s

method. Before the next day was out everybody in town knew that James Grew had been in trouble in Boston, and no

one could possibly imagine

that Cathy had

planted the story. Even Mrs. Ames had forgotten where she heard it.

Soon after her sixteenth birthday a change came over Cathy. One morning she did not get up for school. Her mother went into her room and found her in bed, staring at the ceiling. “Hurry, you’ll be late. It’s nearly nine.” “I’m not going.” There

was no emphasis in her voice. “Are you sick?”


“Then hurry, get up.” “I’m not going.” “You must be sick.

You’ve never missed a day.” “I’m

not going to

school,” Cathy said calmly. “I’m never going to school again.”

Her mother’s mouth fell open. “What do you mean?” “Not ever,” said Cathy

and continued to stare at the ceiling.

“Well, we’ll just see

what your father has to say about that! With all our work and expense, and two years before

you get your

certificate!” Then she came

close and said softly, “You aren’t thinking of getting married?”


“What’s that book

you’re hiding?” “Here, I’m not hiding it.”


Alice in

Wonderland. You’re too big for that.”

Cathy said, “I can get to

be so little you can’t even see me.”

“What in the world are you talking about?” “Nobody can find me.” Her mother said angrily,

“Stop making jokes. I don’t know what you’re thinking of. What does Miss Fancy think she is going to do?” “I don’t know yet,” said

Cathy. “I think I’ll go away.” “Well, you just lie there, Miss Fancy, and when your father comes home he’ll have a thing or two to say to you.”

Cathy turned her head

very slowly and looked at her mother.

Her eyes were

expressionless and cold. And suddenly Mrs. Ames was afraid of her daughter. She went out quietly and closed the door. In her kitchen she sat down and cupped her

hands in her lap and stared out the window at the weathering carriage house.

Her daughter had

become a stranger to her. She felt, as most parents do at one time or another, that she was losing control, that the bridle put in her hands for the governing of Cathy was slipping through her fingers. She did not know that she had never had any power over Cathy. She had been used for Cathy’s

purposes always.

After a while Mrs. Ames put on a bonnet and went to the tannery. She wanted to talk to

her husband away from the house.

In the afternoon Cathy rose listlessly from her bed

and spent a long time in front of the mirror.

That evening Mr. Ames, hating what he had to do, delivered a lecture to his daughter. He spoke of her duty, her obligation, her natural love for her parents. Toward the end of his speech he was aware that she was not listening to him. This made him angry and he fell into threats. He spoke of the authority God had given him over his child and of how this natural authority had been armed by the state. He had her attention now. She looked

him right in the eyes. Her mouth smiled a little, and her eyes did not seem to blink.

Finally he had to look away, and this enraged him further. He ordered her to stop her nonsense.

Vaguely he

threatened her with whipping if she did not obey him.

He ended on a note of weakness. “I want you to promise me that you will go to school in the morning and stop your foolishness.”

Her face was


The little

mouth was straight. “All right,” she said.

Later that night Mr.

Ames said to his wife with an assurance he did not feel, “You see, it just needs a little authority. Maybe we’ve been too lax. But she has been a good child. I guess she just forgot who’s boss. A little sternness

never hurt

anybody.” He wished he were as confident as his words.

In the morning she was gone. Her straw traveling basket was gone and the best of her clothing. Her bed was neatly made. The room was impersonal—nothing


indicate that a girl had grown up in it. There were no pictures, no mementos, none of the normal clutter of growing. Cathy had never played with dolls. The room had no Cathy imprint.

In his way Mr. Ames

was an intelligent man. He clapped on his derby hat and walked quickly to the railroad station. The station agent was certain. Cathy had taken the early morning train. She had bought a ticket for Boston.

He helped Mr. Ames write a telegram to the Boston police.

Mr. Ames bought a round-trip

ticket and caught the nine-fifty train to Boston. He was a very good man in a crisis.

That night Mrs. Ames

sat in the kitchen with the

door closed. She was white and she gripped the table with her hands to control her shaking. The sound, first of the blows and then of the screaming, came clearly to her through the closed doors.

Mr. Ames was not good

at whipping because he had never done it. He lashed at Cathy’s legs with the buggy whip, and when she stood quietly staring at him with calm cold eyes he lost his temper. The first blows were tentative and timid, but when she did not cry he slashed at her sides and shoulders. The whip licked and cut. In his rage he missed her several times or got too close so that the whip wrapped around her


Cathy learned quickly.

She found him out and knew him, and once she had learned she screamed, she writhed,

she cried, she

begged, and she had the satisfaction of feeling the blows

instantly become lighter. Mr.

Ames was

frightened at the noise and hurt he was creating. He stopped. Cathy dropped back on the bed, sobbing. And if

he had looked, her father would have seen that there were no tears in her eyes, but rather the muscles of her neck were tight and there were lumps just under her temples where

the jaw

muscles knotted.

He said, “Now, will you ever do that again?” “No, oh, no! Forgive

me,” Cathy said. She turned over on the bed so that her father could not see the coldness in her face.

“See you remember who you are. And don’t forget what I am.”

Cathy’s voice caught.

She produced a dry sob. “I won’t forget,” she said.

In the kitchen Mrs.

Ames wrestled her hands. Her husband put his fingers on her shoulder.

“I hated to do it,” he

said. “I had to. And I think it did her good. She seems like a changed girl to me. Maybe we haven’t bent the twig enough. We’ve spared the rod. Maybe we were wrong.” And he knew that although his wife had insisted on the whipping, although she had forced him to whip Cathy, she hated him for doing it.

Despair settled over him.

There seemed no doubt that it was what Cathy needed. As

Mr. Ames said, “It kind of opened her up.” She had always been tractable but now she became thoughtful too. In the weeks that followed she helped her mother in the kitchen and offered to help more than was needed. She started to knit an afghan for her mother, a large project

that would take

months. Mrs. Ames told the neighbors about it. “She has such a fine color sense—rust and yellow. She’s finished three squares already.”

For her father Cathy

kept a ready smile. She hung up his hat when he came in

and turned his chair properly under the light to make it easy for him to read.

Even in school she was changed. Always she had been a good student, but now she began to make plans for the future. She talked to the principal about examinations for her teaching certificate, perhaps a year early. And the principal looked over her record and thought she might well try it with hope of success. He called on Mr.

Ames at the tannery to discuss it.

“She didn’t tell us any of this,” Mr. Ames said proudly. “Well,

maybe I

shouldn’t have told you. I hope I haven’t ruined a surprise.”

Mr. and Mrs. Ames felt that they had blundered on

some magic which solved all of their problems. They put it down to an unconscious wisdom which comes only to parents. “I never saw such a change in a person in my life,” Mr. Ames said.

“But she was always a good child,” said his wife. “And have you noticed how pretty she’s getting? Why, she’s almost beautiful. Her

cheeks have so much color.” “I don’t think she’ll be teaching school long with her looks,” said Mr. Ames.

It was true that Cathy

glowed. The childlike smile was constantly on her lips while she went about her preparations. She had all the time in the world. She cleaned the cellar and stuffed papers all around the edges of the foundation to block the draft. When the kitchen door squeaked she oiled the hinges and then the lock that turned too hard, and while she had the oil can out she oiled the front-door hinges too. She made it her duty to keep the lamps

filled and their

chimneys clean. She invented a


of dipping the

chimneys in a big can of kerosene she had in the basement.

“You’d have to see it to believe it,” her father said. And it wasn’t only at home either. She braved the smell of the tannery to visit her father. She was just past sixteen and of course he thought of her as a baby. He was amazed at her questions about business.

“She’s smarter than

some men I could name,” he told his foreman. “She might be running the business


She was interested not

only in the tanning processes but in the business end too.

Her father explained the loans, the payments, the billing, and the payroll. He showed her how to open the safe and was pleased that after

the first try she

remembered the combination. “The way I look at it is

this,” he told his wife. “We’ve all of us got a little of the Old Nick in us. I wouldn’t want a child that didn’t have some gumption. The way I see it, that’s just a kind of

energy. If you just check it and keep it in control, why, it will go in the right direction.” Cathy mended all of her clothes and put her things in order.

One day in May she

came home from school and went directly to her knitting needles. Her mother was dressed to go out. “I have to go to the Altar Guild,” she said. “It’s about the cake sale next week. I’m chairman.

Your father wondered if you would go by the bank and pick up the money for the payroll and take it to the tannery. I told him about the cake sale so I can’t do it.” “I’d like to,” said Cathy. “They’ll have the money

ready for you in a bag,” said Mrs. Ames, and she hurried out.

Cathy worked quickly

but without hurry. She put on an old apron to cover her clothes. In the basement she found a jelly jar with a top and carried it out to the carriage house where the tools were kept. In the chickenyard she caught a little pullet, took it to the block and chopped its head off, and held the writhing neck over the jelly jar until it was full of blood. Then she carried the quivering pullet to the manure pile and buried it deep. Back in the kitchen she took off the apron and put it in the stove and poked the

coals until a flame sprang up on the cloth. She washed her hands and inspected her shoes and stockings and wiped a dark spot from the toe of her right shoe. She looked at her face in the mirror. Her cheeks were bright with color and her eyes shone and her mouth turned

up in its


childlike smile. On her way out she hid the jelly jar under the lowest part of the kitchen steps. Her mother had not been gone even ten minutes. Cathy walked lightly,

almost dancingly around the house and into the street. The

trees were breaking into leaf and a few early dandelions were in yellow flower on the lawns. Cathy walked gaily toward the center of the town where the bank was. And she was so fresh and pretty that people walking turned and looked after her when she had passed.

The fire broke out at about three o’clock in the morning.

It rose, flared,


crashed, and crumbled in on itself almost before anyone noticed




volunteers ran up, pulling their hose cart, there was nothing for them to do but wet down the roofs of the neighboring houses to keep them from catching fire.

The Ames house had gone up like a rocket. The

volunteers and the ordinary audience fires attract looked around at the lighted faces, trying to see Mr. and Mrs.

Ames and their daughter. It came to everyone at once that they were not there. People gazed at the broad ember-bed and saw themselves and their children in there, and hearts rose up and pumped against throats. The volunteers began to dump water on the fire

almost as though they might even so late save some corporeal part of the family.

The frightened talk


through the town that the whole Ames family had burned.

By sunrise everyone in

town was tight-packed about the smoking black pile. Those in front had to shield their faces against the heat. The volunteers continued to pump water to cool off the charred mess. By noon the coroner was able to throw wet planks down and probe with a crowbar among the sodden heaps of charcoal. Enough

remained of Mr. and Mrs. Ames to make sure there were

two bodies.


neighbors pointed out the approximate

place where

Cathy’s room had been, but although the coroner and any number of helpers worked over the debris with a garden rake they could find no tooth or bone.

The chief of the

volunteers meanwhile had found the doorknobs and lock

of the kitchen door. He looked at the blackened metal, puzzled, but not quite knowing what puzzled him. He borrowed the coroner’s rake and worked furiously.

He went to the place where the front door had been and raked until he found that lock, crooked and half melted. By now he had his own small crowd,

who demanded,

“What are you looking for, George?” And “What did you find, George?”

Finally the coroner came over to him. “What’s on your mind, George?”

“No keys in the locks,” the chief said uneasily.

“Maybe they fell out.” “How?”

“Maybe they melted.” “The locks didn’t melt.” “Maybe Bill Ames took them out.”

“On the inside?” He held up his trophies. Both bolts stuck out.

Since the owner’s house was burned and the owner

ostensibly burned with it, the employees of the tannery, out of respect, did not go to work. They hung around the burned house, offering to help in any way they could, feeling official and generally getting in the way.

It wasn’t until afternoon that


Robinson, the

foreman, went down to the tannery. He found the safe open and papers scattered all over the floor. A broken window showed how the thief had entered.

Now the whole

complexion changed. So, it was not an accident. Fear took the place of excitement and

sorrow, and anger,

brother of fear, crept in. The crowd began to spread.

They had not far to go.

In the carriage house there

was what is called “signs of a struggle”—in this case a broken

box, a


carriage lamp, scraped marks in the dust, and straw on the floor. The onlookers might not have known these as signs of a struggle had there not been a quantity of blood on the floor.

The constable took control.

This was his

province. He pushed and herded everyone out of the

carriage house. “Want to gum up all the clues?” he shouted at them. “Now you all stay clear outside the door.”

He searched the room,

picked up something, and in a corner found something else. He came to the door, holding his discoveries in his hands— a blood-splattered blue hair ribbon and a cross with red stones. “Anybody recognize these here?” he demanded.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone it is

almost impossible to

believe that one of your acquaintance could murder anyone. For that reason, if the

signs are not pretty strong in a particular direction, it must be some dark stranger, some wanderer from the outside world where such things happen. Then the hobo camps are

raided and vagrants

brought in and hotel registers scrutinized. Every man who is not known is automatically suspected.

It was May,

remember, and the wandering men had only recently taken to the roads, now that the warming months let them spread their blankets by any

water course. And the gypsies were

out too—a whole

caravan less than five miles away. And what a turning out those poor gypsies got!

The ground for miles

around was searched for new-turned earth, and likely pools were dragged for Cathy’s

body. “She was so pretty,” everyone said, and they meant that in themselves they could see a reason for carrying Cathy off. At length a bumbling hairy half-wit was brought in for questioning.

He was a fine candidate for hanging because not only did he have no alibis, he could not remember what he had

done at anytime in his life. His feeble mind sensed that these

questioners wanted

something of him and, being a friendly creature, he tried to give it to them. When a baited and set question was offered to him, he walked happily into the trap and was glad when the constable looked happy. He tried manfully to please these superior beings. There was something very nice about him. The only trouble with his confession was that he confessed too much in too many directions. Also, he had constantly to be reminded of what he was supposed to have done. He

was really pleased when he was indicted by a stern and frightened jury. He felt that at last

he amounted to something.

There were, and are, some men who become

judges whose love for the law and for its intention of promoting justice has the quality of love for a woman. Such a man presided at the examination before plea—a man so pure and good that he canceled

out a lot of

wickedness with his life. Without the prompting the culprit was used to, his confession was nonsense. The judge questioned him and found out that although the suspect was trying to follow instructions he simply could not remember what he had done, whom he had killed, how or why. The judge sighed wearily and motioned him out of the courtroom and crooked his fingers at the constable.

“Now look here, Mike,”

he said, “you shouldn’t do a thing like that. If that poor fellow had been just a little smarter you might have got him hanged.”

“He said he did it.” The

constable’s feelings were hurt because

he was a

conscientious man. “He

would have

admitted climbing the golden stairs and cutting St. Peter’s throat with a bowling ball,” the judge said. “Be more careful, Mike. The law was designed to save, not to destroy.”

In all such local

tragedies time works like a damp brush on water color.

The sharp edges blur, the ache goes out of it, the colors melt together, and from the many separated lines a solid gray


Within a

month it was not so necessary to hang someone, and within two months nearly everybody discovered that there wasn’t any real evidence against anyone. If it had not been for Cathy’s murder, fire and robbery might have been a coincidence. Then it occurred to

people that without

Cathy’s body you couldn’t

prove anything even though you thought she was dead. Cathy left a scent of sweetness behind her.

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