Absalom, Absalom! Part 3

-He cannot marry her, Henry.

Now Henry speaks.

-You said that before. I told you then. And now, and now it wont be much longer now and then we wont have anything left: honor nor pride nor G.o.d since G.o.d quit us four years ago only He never thought it necessary to tell us; no shoes nor clothes and no need for them; not only no land to make food out of but no need for the food and when you dont have G.o.d and honor and pride, nothing matters except that there is the old mindless meat that dont even care if it was defeat or victory, that wont even die, that will be out in the woods and fields, grubbing up roots and weeds.-Yes. I have decided. Brother or not, I have decided. I will. I will.

-He must not marry her, Henry.

-Yes. I said Yes at first, but I was not decided then. I didn't let him. But now I have had four years to decide in. I will. I am going to.

-He must not marry her, Henry. His mother's father told me that her mother had been a Spanish woman. I believed him; it was not until after he was born that I found out that his mother was part negro.

Nor did Henry ever say that he did not remember leaving the tent. He remembers all of it. He remembers stooping through the entrance again and pa.s.sing the sentry again; he remembers walking back down the cut and rutted road, stumbling in the dark among the ruts on either side of which the fires have now died to embers, so that he can barely distinguish the men sleeping on the earth about them. It must be better than eleven oclock, he thinks. And another eight miles tomorrow. If it were only not for those d.a.m.ned guns. Why doesn't Old Joe give the guns to Sherman. Then we could make twenty miles a day. We could join Lee then. At least Lee stops and fights some of the time. He remembers it. He remembers how he did not return to his fire but stopped presently in a lonely place and leaned against a pine, leaning quietly and easily, with his head back so he could look up at the shabby s.h.a.ggy branches like something in wrought iron spreading motionless against the chill vivid stars of early spring, thinking I hope he remembers to thank Colonel Willow for letting us use his tent, thinking not what he would do but what he would have to do. Because he knew what he would do; it now depended on what Bon would do, would force him to do, since he knew that he would do it. So I must go to him, he thought, thinking, Now it is better than two oclock and it will be dawn soon.

Then it was dawn, or almost, and it was cold: a chill which struck through the worn patched thin clothing, through the something of weariness and undernourishment; the pa.s.sive ability, not the volitional will, to endure; there was light somewhere, enough of it for him to distinguish Bon's sleeping face from among the others where he lay wrapped in his blankets, beneath his spread cloak; enough light for him to wake Bon by and for Bon to distinguish his face (or perhaps something communicated by Henry's hand) because Bon does not speak, demand to know who it is: he merely rises and puts the cloak about his shoulders and approaches the smoldering fire and is kicking it into a blaze when Henry speaks: -Wait.

Bon pauses and looks at Henry; now he can see Henry's face. He says, -You will be cold. You are cold now. You haven't been asleep, have you? Here.

He swings the cloak from his shoulders and holds it out.

-No, Henry says.

-Yes. Take it. I'll get my blanket.

Bon puts the cloak about Henry and goes and takes up his tumbled blanket and swings it about his shoulders, and they move aside and sit on a log. Now it is dawn. The east is gray; it will be primrose soon and then red with firing and once more the weary backward marching will begin, retreating from annihilation, falling back upon defeat, though not quite yet. There will be a little time yet for them to sit side by side upon the log in the making light of dawn, the one in the cloak, the other in the blanket; their voices are not much louder than the silent dawn itself: -So it's the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear. Henry doesn't answer.

-And he sent me no word? He did not ask you to send me to him? No word to me, no word at all? That was all he had to do, now, today; four years ago or at any time during the four years. That was all. He would not have needed to ask it, require it, of me. I would have offered it. I would have said, I will never see her again before he could have asked it of me. He did not have to do this, Henry. He didn't need to tell you I am a n.i.g.g.e.r to stop me. He could have stopped me without that, Henry.

-No! Henry cries.-No! No! I will-I'll-- He springs up; his face is working; Bon can see his teeth within the soft beard which covers his sunken cheeks, and the whites of Henry's eyes as though the eyeb.a.l.l.s struggled in their sockets as the panting breath struggled in his lungs-the panting which ceased, the breath held, the eyes too looking down at him where he sat on the log, the voice now not much louder than an expelled breath: -You said, could have stopped you. What do you mean by that?

Now it is Bon who does not answer, who sits on the log looking at the face stooped above him. Henry says, still in that voice no louder than breathing: -But now? You mean you-- -Yes. What else can I do now? I gave him the choice. I have been giving him the choice for four years.

-Think of her. Not of me: of her.

-I have. For four years. Of you and her. Now I am thinking of myself.

-No, Henry says.-No. No.

-I cannot?

-You shall not.

-Who will stop me, Henry?

-No, Henry says.-No. No. No.

Now it is Bon who watches Henry; he can see the whites of Henry's eyes again as he sits looking at Henry with that expression which might be called smiling. His hand vanishes beneath the blanket and reappears, holding his pistol by the barrel, the b.u.t.t extended toward Henry.

-Then do it now, he says.

Henry looks at the pistol; now he is not only panting, he is trembling; when he speaks now his voice is not even the exhalation, it is the suffused and suffocating inbreath itself: -You are my brother.

-No I'm not. I'm the n.i.g.g.e.r that's going to sleep with your sister.

Unless you stop me, Henry.

Suddenly Henry grasps the pistol, jerks it free of Bon's hand and stands so, the pistol in his hand, panting and panting; again Bon can see the whites of his inrolled eyes while he sits on the log and watches Henry with that faint expression about the eyes and mouth which might be smiling.

-Do it now, Henry, he says.

Henry whirls; in the same motion he hurls the pistol from him and stoops again, gripping Bon by both shoulders, panting.

-You shall not! he says.-You shall not! Do you hear me?

Bon does not move beneath the gripping hands; he sits motionless, with his faint fixed grimace; his voice is gentler than that first breath in which the pine branches begin to move a little: -You will have to stop me, Henry. "And he never slipped away," Shreve said. "He could have, but he never even tried. Jesus, maybe he even went to Henry and said, 'I'm going, Henry' and maybe they left together and rode side by side dodging Yankee patrols all the way back to Mississippi and right up to that gate; side by side and it only then that one of them ever rode ahead or dropped behind and that when Henry spurred ahead and turned his horse to face Bon and took out the pistol; and Judith and Clytie heard the shot, and maybe Wash Jones was hanging around somewhere in the back yard and so he was there to help Clytie and Judith carry him into the house and lay him on the bed, and Wash went to town to tell the Aunt Rosa and the Aunt Rosa comes boiling out that afternoon and finds Judith standing without a tear before the closed door, holding the metal case she had given him with her picture in it but that didn't have her picture in it now but that of the octoroon and the kid. And your old man wouldn't know about that too: why the black son of a b.i.t.c.h should have taken her picture out and put the octoroon's picture in, so he invented a reason for it. But I know. And you know too. Dont you? Dont you, huh?" He glared at Quentin, leaning forward over the table now, looking huge and shapeless as a bear in his swaddling of garments. "Dont you know? It was because he said to himself, 'If Henry dont mean what he said, it will be all right; I can take it out and destroy it. But if he does mean what he said, it will be the only way I will have to say to her, I was no good; do not grieve for me.' Aint that right? Aint it? By G.o.d, aint it?"

"Yes," Quentin said.

"Come on," Shreve said. "Let's get out of this refrigerator and go to bed."


At first, in bed in the dark, it seemed colder than ever, as if there had been some puny quality of faint heat in the single light bulb before Shreve turned it off and that now the iron and impregnable dark had become one with the iron and icelike bedclothing lying upon the flesh slacked and thin-clad for sleeping. Then the darkness seemed to breathe, to flow back; the window which Shreve had opened became visible against the faintly unearthly glow of the outer snow as, forced by the weight of the darkness, the blood surged and ran warmer, warmer. "University of Mississippi," Shreve's voice said in the darkness to Quentin's right. "Bayard attenuated forty miles (it was forty miles, wasn't it?); out of the wilderness proud honor semestrial regurgitant."

"Yes," Quentin said. "They were in the tenth graduating cla.s.s since it was founded."

"I didn't know there were ten in Mississippi that went to school at one time," Shreve said. Quentin didn't answer. He lay watching the rectangle of window, feeling the warming blood driving through his veins, his arms and legs. And now, although he was warm and though while he had sat in the cold room he merely shook faintly and steadily, now he began to jerk all over, violently and uncontrollably until he could even hear the bed, until even Shreve felt it and turned, raising himself (by the sound) onto his elbow to look at Quentin, though Quentin himself felt perfectly all right. He felt fine even, lying there and waiting in peaceful curiosity for the next violent unharbingered jerk to come. "Jesus, are you that cold?" Shreve said. "Do you want me to spread the overcoats on you?"

"No," Quentin said. "I'm not cold. I'm all right. I feel fine."

"Then what are you doing that for?"

"I dont know. I cant help it. I feel fine."

"All right. But let me know if you want the coats. Jesus, if I was going to have to spend nine months in this climate, I would sure hate to have come from the South. Maybe I wouldn't come from the South anyway, even if I could stay there. Wait. Listen. I'm not trying to be funny, smart. I just want to understand it if I can and I dont know how to say it better. Because it's something my people haven't got. Or if we have got it, it all happened long ago across the water and so now there aint anything to look at every day to remind us of it. We dont live among defeated grandfathers and freed slaves (or have I got it backward and was it your folks that are free and the n.i.g.g.e.rs that lost?) and bullets in the dining room table and such, to be always reminding us to never forget. What is it? something you live and breathe in like air? a kind of vacuum filled with wraithlike and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago? a kind of entailed birthright father and son and father and son of never forgiving General Sherman, so that forever more as long as your children's children produce children you wont be anything but a descendant of a long line of colonels killed in Pickett's charge at Mana.s.sas?"

"Gettysburg," Quentin said. "You cant understand it. You would have to be born there."

"Would I then?" Quentin did not answer. "Do you understand it?"

"I dont know," Quentin said. "Yes, of course I understand it." They breathed in the darkness. After a moment Quentin said: "I dont know."

"Yes. You dont know. You dont even know about the old dame, the Aunt Rosa."

"Miss Rosa," Quentin said.

"All right. You dont even know about her. Except that she refused at the last to be a ghost. That after almost fifty years she couldn't reconcile herself to letting him lie dead in peace. That even after fifty years she not only could get up and go out there to finish up what she found she hadn't quite completed, but she could find someone to go with her and bust into that locked house because instinct or something told her it was not finished yet. Do you?"

"No," Quentin said peacefully. He could taste the dust. Even now, with the chill pure weight of the snow-breathed New England air on his face, he could taste and feel the dust of that breathless (rather, furnace-breathed) Mississippi September night. He could even smell the old woman in the buggy beside him, smell the fusty camphor-reeking shawl and even the airless black cotton umbrella in which (he would not discover until they had reached the house) she had concealed a hatchet and a flashlight. He could smell the horse; he could hear the dry plaint of the light wheels in the weightless permeant dust and he seemed to feel the dust itself move sluggish and dry across his sweating flesh just as he seemed to hear the single profound suspiration of the parched earth's agony rising toward the imponderable and aloof stars. Now she spoke, for the first time since they had left Jefferson, since she had climbed into the buggy with a kind of clumsy and fumbling and trembling eagerness (which he thought derived from terror, alarm, until he found that he was quite wrong) before he could help her, to sit on the extreme edge of the seat, small, in the fusty shawl and clutching the umbrella, leaning forward as if by leaning forward she would arrive the sooner, arrive immediately after the horse and before he, Quentin, would, before the prescience of her desire and need could warn its consummation. "Now," she said. "We are on the Domain. On his land, his and Ellen's and Ellen's descendants. They have taken it away from them since, I understand. But it still belongs to him, to Ellen and her descendants." But Quentin was already aware of that. Before she spoke he had said to himself, 'Now. Now' and (as during the long hot afternoon in the dim hot little house) it seemed to him that if he stopped the buggy and listened, he might even hear the galloping hooves; might even see at any moment now the black stallion and the rider rush across the road before them and gallop on-the rider who at one time owned, lock stock and barrel, everything he could see from a given point, with every stick and blade and hoof and heel on it to remind him (if he ever forgot it) that he was the biggest thing in their sight and in his own too; who went to war to protect it and lost the war and returned home to find that he had lost more than the war even, though not absolutely all; who said At least I have life left but did not have life but only old age and breathing and horror and scorn and fear and indignation: and all remaining to look at him with unchanged regard was the girl who had been a child when he saw her last, who doubtless used to watch him from window or door as he pa.s.sed unaware of her as she would have looked at G.o.d probably, since everything else within her view belonged to him too. Maybe he would even stop at the cabin and ask for water and she would take the bucket and walk the mile and back to the spring to fetch it fresh and cool for him, no more thinking of saying "The bucket is empty" to him than she would have said it to G.o.d;-this the not-all, since at least there was breathing left.

Now Quentin began to breathe hard again, who had been peaceful for a time in the warm bed, breathing hard the heady pure s...o...b..rn darkness. She (Miss Coldfield) did not let him enter the gate. She said "Stop" suddenly; he felt her hand flutter on his arm and he thought, 'Why, she is afraid'. He could hear her panting now, her voice almost a wail of diffident yet iron determination: "I dont know what to do. I dont know what to do." ('I do,' he thought. 'Go back to town and go to bed.') But he did not say it. He looked at the two huge rotting gate posts in the starlight, between which no gates swung now, wondering from what direction Bon and Henry had ridden up that day, wondering what had cast the shadow which Bon was not to pa.s.s alive; if some living tree which still lived and bore leaves and shed or if some tree gone, vanished, burned for warmth and food years ago now or perhaps just gone; or if it had been one of the two posts themselves, thinking, wishing that Henry were there now to stop Miss Coldfield and turn them back, telling himself that if Henry were there now, there would be no shot to be heard by anyone. "She's going to try to stop me," Miss Coldfield whimpered. "I know she is. Maybe this far from town, out here alone at midnight, she will even let that negro man--And you didn't even bring a pistol. Did you?"

"Nome," Quentin said. "What is it she's got hidden there? What could it be? And what difference does it make? Let's go back to town, Miss Rosa."

She didn't answer this at all. She just said, "That's what I have got to find out", sitting forward on the seat, trembling now and peering up the tree-arched drive toward where the rotting sh.e.l.l of the house would be. "And now I will have to find it out," she whimpered, in a kind of amazed self-pity. She moved suddenly. "Come," she whispered, beginning to get out of the buggy.

"Wait," Quentin said. "Let's drive up to the house. It's a half a mile."

"No, no," she whispered, a tense fierce hissing of words filled with that same curious terrified yet implacable determination, as though it were not she who had to go and find out but she only the helpless agent of someone or something else who must know. "Hitch the horse here. Hurry." She got out, scrambled awkwardly down, before he could help her, clutching the umbrella. It seemed to him that he could still hear her whimpering panting where she waited close beside one of the posts while he led the mare from the road and tied one rein about a sapling in the weed-choked ditch. He could not see her at all, so close she stood against the post: she just stepped out and fell in beside him when he pa.s.sed and turned into the gate, still breathing in those whimpering pants as they walked on up the rutted tree-arched drive. The darkness was intense; she stumbled; he caught her. She took his arm, clutching it in a dead rigid hard grip as if her fingers, her hand, were a small ma.s.s of wire. "I will have to take your arm," she whispered, whimpered. "And you haven't even got a pistol-Wait," she said. She stopped. He turned; he could not see her but he could hear her hurried breathing and then a rustling of cloth. Then she was prodding something at him. "Here," she whispered. "Take it." It was a hatchet; not sight but touch told him-a hatchet with a heavy worn handle and a heavy gapped rust-dulled blade.

"What?" he said.

"Take it!" she whispered, hissed. "You didn't bring a pistol. It's something."

"Here," he said; "wait."

"Come," she whispered. "You will have to let me take your arm, I am trembling so bad." They went on again, she clinging to one of his arms, the hatchet in his other hand. "We will probably need it to get into the house, anyway," she said, stumbling along beside him, almost dragging him. "I just know she is somewhere watching us," she whimpered. "I can feel her. But if we can just get to the house, get into the house--" The drive seemed interminable. He knew the place. He had walked from the gate to the house as a child, a boy, when distances seem really long (so that to the man grown the long crowded mile of his boyhood becomes less than the throw of a stone) yet now it seemed to him that the house would never come in sight: so that presently he found himself repeating her words: 'If we can just get to the house, get inside the house', telling himself, recovering himself in that same breath: 'I am not afraid. I just dont want to be here. I just dont want to know about whatever it is she keeps hidden in it'. But they reached it at last. It loomed, bulked, square and enormous, with jagged half-toppled chimneys, its roofline sagging a little; for an instant as they moved, hurried, toward it Quentin saw completely through it a ragged segment of sky with three hot stars in it as if the house were of one dimension, painted on a canvas curtain in which there was a tear; now, almost beneath it, the dead furnace-breath of air in which they moved seemed to reek in slow and protracted violence with a smell of desolation and decay as if the wood of which it was built were flesh. She was trotting beside him now, her hand trembling on his arm yet gripping it still with that lifeless and rigid strength; not talking, not saying words, yet producing a steady whimpering, almost a moaning, sound. Apparently she could not see at all now, so that he had to guide her toward where he knew the steps would be and then restrain her, whispering, hissing, aping without knowing it her own tense fainting haste: "Wait. This way. Be careful, now. They're rotten." He almost lifted, carried, her up the steps, supporting her from behind by both elbows as you lift a child; he could feel something fierce and implacable and dynamic driving down the thin rigid arms and into his palms and up his own arms; lying in the Ma.s.sachusetts bed he remembered how he thought, knew, said suddenly to himself, 'Why, she's not afraid at all. It's something. But she's not afraid', feeling her flee out of his hands, hearing her feet cross the gallery, overtaking her where she now stood beside the invisible front door, panting. "Now what?" he whispered.

"Break it," she whispered. "It will be locked, nailed. You have the hatchet. Break it."

"But--" he began.

"Break it!" she hissed. "It belonged to Ellen. I am her sister, her only living heir. Break it. Hurry." He pushed against the door. It did not move. She panted beside him. "Hurry," she said. "Break it."

"Listen, Miss Rosa," he said. "Listen."

"Give me the hatchet."

"Wait," he said. "Do you really want to go inside?"

"I'm going inside," she whimpered. "Give me the hatchet."

"Wait," he said. He moved along the gallery, guiding himself by the wall, moving carefully since he did not know just where the floor planks might be rotten or even missing, until he came to a window. The shutters were closed and apparently locked, yet they gave almost at once to the blade of the hatchet, making not very much sound-a flimsy and sloven barricading done either by an old feeble person-woman-or by a shiftless man; he had already inserted the hatchet blade beneath the sash before he discovered that there was no gla.s.s in it, that all he had to do now was to step through the vacant frame. Then he stood there for a moment, telling himself to go on in, telling himself that he was not afraid, he just didn't want to know what might be inside. "Well?" Miss Coldfield whispered from the door. "Have you opened it?"

"Yes," he said. He did not whisper, though he did not speak overloud; the dark room which he faced repeated his voice with hollow profundity, as an unfurnished room will. "You wait there. I'll see if I can open the door."-'so now I shall have to go in,' he thought, climbing over the sill. He knew that the room was empty; the echo of his voice had told him that, yet he moved as slowly and carefully here as he had along the gallery, feeling along the wall with his hand, following the wall when it turned, and found the door and pa.s.sed through it. He would be in the hall now; he almost believed that he could hear Miss Coldfield breathing just beyond the wall beside him. It was pitch dark; he could not see, he knew that he could not see, yet he found that his eyelids and muscles were aching with strain while merging and dissolving red spots wheeled and vanished across the retinae. He went on; he felt the door under his hand at last and now he could hear Miss Coldfield's whimpering breathing beyond it as he fumbled for the lock. Then behind him the sound of the sc.r.a.ped match was like an explosion, a pistol; even before the puny following light appeared all his organs lifted sickeningly; he could not even move for a moment even though something of sanity roared silently inside his skull: 'It's all right! If it were danger, he would not have struck the match!' Then he could move, and turned to see the tiny gnomelike creature in headrag and voluminous skirts, the worn coffee-colored face staring at him, the match held in one coffee-colored and doll-like hand above her head. Then he was not watching her but watching the match as it burned down toward her fingers; he watched quietly as she moved at last and lit a second match from the first and turned; he saw then the square-ended saw chunk beside the wall and the lamp sitting upon it as she lifted the chimney and held the match to the wick. He remembered it, lying here in the Ma.s.sachusetts bed and breathing fast now, now that peace and quiet had fled again. He remembered how she did not say one word to him, not Who are you? or What do you want here? but merely came with a bunch of enormous old fashioned iron keys, as if she had known all the time that this hour must come and that it could not be resisted, and opened the door and stepped back a little as Miss Coldfield entered. And how she (Clytie) and Miss Coldfield said no word to one another, as if Clytie had looked once at the other woman and knew that that would do no good; that it was to him, Quentin, that she turned, putting her hand on his arm and saying, "Dont let her go up there, young marster." And how maybe she looked at him and knew that would do no good either, because she turned and overtook Miss Coldfield and caught her arm and said, "Dont you go up there, Rosie" and Miss Coldfield struck the hand away and went on toward the stairs (and now he saw that she had a flashlight; he remembered how he thought, 'It must have been in the umbrella too along with the axe') and Clytie said, "Rosie" and ran after the other again, whereupon Miss Coldfield turned on the step and struck Clytie to the floor with a full-armed blow like a man would have, and turned and went on up the stairs. She (Clytie) lay on the bare floor of the scaling and empty hall like a small shapeless bundle of quiet clean rags. When he reached her he saw that she was quite conscious, her eyes wide open and calm; he stood above her, thinking, 'Yes. She is the one who owns the terror'. When he raised her it was like picking up a handful of sticks concealed in a rag bundle, so light she was. She could not stand; he had to hold her up, aware of some feeble movement or intention in her limbs until he realised that she was trying to sit on the bottom step. He lowered her to it. "Who are you?" she said.

"I'm Quentin Compson," he answered.

"Yes. I remember your grandpaw. You go up there and make her come down. Make her go away from here. Whatever he done, me and Judith and him have paid it out. You go and get her. Take her away from here." So he mounted the stairs, the worn bare treads, the cracked and scaling wall on one side, the bal.u.s.trade with its intermittent missing spindles on the other. He remembered how he looked back and she was still sitting as he had left her, and that now (and he had not heard him enter) there stood in the hall below a hulking young light-colored negro man in clean faded overalls and shirt, his arms dangling, no surprise, no nothing in the saddle-colored and slack-mouthed idiot face. He remembered how he thought, 'The scion, the heir, the apparent (though not obvious)' and how he heard Miss Coldfield's feet and saw the light of the torch approaching along the upper hall and how she came and pa.s.sed him, how she stumbled a little and caught herself and looked full at him as if she had never seen him before-the eyes wide and unseeing like a sleepwalker's, the face which had always been tallow-hued now possessing some still profounder, some almost unbearable, quality of bloodlessness-and he thought, 'What? What is it now? It's not shock. And it never has been fear. Can it be triumph?' and how she pa.s.sed him and went on. He heard Clytie say to the man, "Take her to the gate, the buggy" and he stood there thinking, 'I should go with her' and then, 'But I must see too now. I will have to. Maybe I shall be sorry tomorrow, but I must see'. So when he came back down the stairs (and he remembered how he thought, 'Maybe my face looks like hers did, but it's not triumph') there was only Clytie in the hall, sitting still on the bottom step, sitting still in the att.i.tude in which he had left her. She did not even look at him when he pa.s.sed her. Nor did he overtake Miss Coldfield and the negro. It was too dark to go fast, though he could presently hear them ahead of him. She was not using the flashlight now; he remembered how he thought, 'Surely she cant be afraid to show a light now'. But she was not using it and he wondered if she were holding to the negro's arm now; he wondered that until he heard the negro's voice, flat, without emphasis or interest: "Wawkin better over here" and no answer from her, though he was close enough now to hear (or believe he did) her whimpering panting breath. Then he heard the other sound and he knew that she had stumbled and fallen; he could almost see the hulking slack-faced negro stopped in his tracks, looking toward the sound of the fall, waiting, without interest or curiosity, as he (Quentin) hurried forward, hurried toward the voices: "You, n.i.g.g.e.r! What's your name?"

"Calls me Jim Bond."

"Help me up! You aint any Sutpen! You dont have to leave me lying in the dirt!"

When he stopped the buggy at her gate she did not offer to get out alone this time. She sat there until he got down and came around to her side; she still sat there, clutching the umbrella in one hand and the hatchet in the other, until he spoke her name. Then she stirred; he helped, lifted her down; she was almost as light as Clytie had been; when she moved it was like a mechanical doll, so that he supported and led her through the gate and up the short walk and into the doll-sized house and turned on the light for her and looked at the fixed sleep-walking face, the wide dark eyes as she stood there, still clutching the umbrella and the hatchet, the shawl and the black dress both stained with dirt where she had fallen, the black bonnet jerked forward and awry by the shock of the fall. "Are you all right now?" he said.

"Yes," she said. "Yes. I'm all right. Goodnight."-'Not thank you,' he thought: 'Just goodnight', outside the house now, breathing deep and fast now as he returned to the buggy, finding that he was about to begin to run, thinking quietly, 'Jesus. Jesus. Jesus', breathing fast and hard of the dark dead furnace-breath of air, of night where the fierce aloof stars hung. His own home was dark; he was still using the whip when he turned into the lane and then into the stable lot. He sprang out and took the mare from the buggy, stripping the harness from her and tumbling it into the harness room without stopping to hang it up, sweating, breathing fast and hard; when he turned at last toward the house he did begin to run. He could not help it. He was twenty years old; he was not afraid, because what he had seen out there could not harm him, yet he ran; even inside the dark familiar house, his shoes in his hand, he still ran, up the stairs and into his room and began to undress, fast, sweating, breathing fast. 'I ought to bathe,' he thought: then he was lying on the bed, naked, swabbing his body steadily with the discarded shirt, sweating still, panting: so that when, his eye-muscles aching and straining into the darkness and the almost dried shirt still clutched in his hand, he said 'I have been asleep' it was all the same, there was no difference: waking or sleeping he walked down that upper hall between the scaling walls and beneath the cracked ceiling, toward the faint light which fell outward from the last door and paused there, saying 'No. No' and then 'Only I must. I have to' and went in, entered the bare stale room whose shutters were closed too, where a second lamp burned dimly on a crude table; waking or sleeping it was the same: the bed, the yellow sheets and pillow, the wasted yellow face with closed, almost transparent eyelids on the pillow, the wasted hands crossed on the breast as if he were already a corpse; waking or sleeping it was the same and would be the same forever as long as he lived: And you are--?

Henry Sutpen.

And you have been here--?

Four years.

And you came home--?

To die. Yes.

To die?

Yes. To die.

And you have been here--?

Four years.

And you are--?

Henry Sutpen.

It was quite cold in the room now; the chimes would ring for one any time now; the chill had a compounded, a gathered quality, as though preparing for the dead moment before dawn. "And she waited three months before she went back to get him," Shreve said. "Why did she do that?" Quentin didn't answer. He lay still and rigid on his back with the cold New England night on his face and the blood running warm in his rigid body and limbs, breathing hard but slow, his eyes wide open upon the window, thinking 'Nevermore of peace. Nevermore of peace. Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore'. "Do you suppose it was because she knew what was going to happen when she told it, took any steps, that it would be over then, finished, and that hating is like drink or drugs and she had used it so long that she did not dare risk cutting off the supply, destroying the source, the very poppy's root and seed?" Still Quentin didn't answer. "But at last she did reconcile herself to it, for his sake, to save him, to bring him into town where the doctors could save him, and so she told it then, got the ambulance and the men and went out there. And old Clytie maybe watching for just that out of the upstairs window for three months now: and maybe even your old man was right this time and when she saw the ambulance turn into the gate she believed it was that same black wagon for which she probably had had that n.i.g.g.e.r boy watching for three months now, coming to carry Henry into town for the white folks to hang him for shooting Charles Bon. And I guess it had been him who had kept that closet under the stairs full of tinder and trash all that time too, like she told him to, maybe he not getting it then either but keeping it full just like she told him, the kerosene and all, for three months now, until the hour when he could begin to howl-" Now the chimes began, ringing for one oclock. Shreve ceased, as if he were waiting for them to cease or perhaps were even listening to them. Quentin lay still too, as if he were listening too, though he was not; he just heard them without listening as he heard Shreve without listening or answering, until they ceased, died away into the icy air delicate and faint and musical as struck gla.s.s. And he, Quentin, could see that too, though he had not been there-the ambulance with Miss Coldfield between the driver and the second man, perhaps a deputy sheriff, in the shawl surely and perhaps even with the umbrella too, though probably no hatchet nor flashlight in it now, entering the gate and picking its way gingerly up the rutted and frozen (and now partially thawed) drive; and it may have been the howling or it may have been the deputy or the driver or it may have been she who cried first: "It's on fire!" though she would not have cried that; she would have said, "Faster. Faster." leaning forward on this seat too-the small furious grim implacable woman not much larger than a child. But the ambulance could not go fast in that drive; doubtless Clytie knew, counted upon, that; it would be a good three minutes before it could reach the house, the monstrous tinder-dry rotten sh.e.l.l seeping smoke through the warped cracks in the weather-boarding as if it were made of gauze wire and filled with roaring and beyond which somewhere something lurked which bellowed, something human since the bellowing was in human speech, even though the reason for it would not have seemed to be. And the deputy and the driver would spring out and Miss Coldfield would stumble out and follow them, running too, onto the gallery too, where the creature which bellowed followed them, wraithlike and insubstantial, looking at them out of the smoke, whereupon the deputy even turned and ran at him, whereupon he retreated, fled, though the howling did not diminish nor even seem to get any further away. They ran onto the gallery too, into the seeping smoke, Miss Coldfield screaming harshly, "The window! The window!" to the second man at the door. But the door was not locked; it swung inward; the blast of heat struck them. The entire staircase was on fire. Yet they had to hold her; Quentin could see it: the light thin furious creature making no sound at all now, struggling with silent and bitter fury, clawing and scratching and biting at the two men who held her, who dragged her back and down the steps as the draft created by the open door seemed to explode like powder among the flames as the whole lower hall vanished. He, Quentin, could see it, could see the deputy holding her while the driver backed the ambulance to safety and returned, the three faces all a little wild now since they must have believed her;-the three of them staring, glaring at the doomed house: and then for a moment maybe Clytie appeared in that window from which she must have been watching the gates constantly day and night for three months-the tragic gnome's face beneath the clean headrag, against a red background of fire, seen for a moment between two swirls of smoke, looking down at them, perhaps not even now with triumph and no more of despair than it had ever worn, possibly even serene above the melting clapboards before the smoke swirled across it again.-and he, Jim Bond, the scion, the last of his race, seeing it too now and howling with human reason now since now even he could have known what he was howling about. But they couldn't catch him. They could hear him; he didn't seem to ever get any further away but they couldn't get any nearer and maybe in time they could not even locate the direction of the howling anymore. They-the driver and the deputy-held Miss Coldfield as she struggled: he (Quentin) could see her, them; he had not been there but he could see her, struggling and fighting like a doll in a nightmare, making no sound, foaming a little at the mouth, her face even in the sunlight lit by one last wild crimson reflection as the house collapsed and roared away, and there was only the sound of the idiot negro left.

"And so it was the Aunt Rosa that came back to town inside the ambulance," Shreve said. Quentin did not answer; he did not even say, Miss Rosa. He just lay there staring at the window without even blinking, breathing the chill heady pure snowgleamed darkness. "And she went to bed because it was all finished now, there was nothing left now, nothing out there now but that idiot boy to lurk around those ashes and those four gutted chimneys and howl until someone came and drove him away. They couldn't catch him and n.o.body ever seemed to make him go very far away, he just stopped howling for a little while. Then after a while they would begin to hear him again. And so she died." Quentin did not answer, staring at the window; then he could not tell if it was the actual window or the window's pale rectangle upon his eyelids, though after a moment it began to emerge. It began to take shape in its same curious, light, gravity-defying att.i.tude-the once-folded sheet out of the wistaria Mississippi summer, the cigar smell, the random blowing of the fireflies. "The South," Shreve said. "The South. Jesus. No wonder you folks all outlive yourselves by years and years and years." It was becoming quite distinct; he would be able to decipher the words soon, in a moment; even almost now, now, now.

"I am older at twenty than a lot of people who have died," Quentin said.

"And more people have died than have been twenty-one," Shreve said. Now he (Quentin) could read it, could finish it-the sloped whimsical ironic hand out of Mississippi attenuated, into the iron snow: -or perhaps there is. Surely it can harm no one to believe that perhaps she has escaped not at all the privilege of being outraged and amazed and of not forgiving but on the contrary has herself gained that place or bourne where the objects of the outrage and of the commiseration also are no longer ghosts but are actual people to be actual recipients of the hatred and the pity. It will do no harm to hope-You see I have written hope, not think. So let it be hope.-that the one cannot escape the censure which no doubt he deserves, that the other no longer lack the commiseration which let us hope (while we are hoping) that they have longed for, if only for the reason that they are about to receive it whether they will or no. The weather was beautiful though cold and they had to use picks to break the earth for the grave yet in one of the deeper clods I saw a redworm doubtless alive when the clod was thrown up though by afternoon it was frozen again.

"So it took Charles Bon and his mother to get rid of old Tom, and Charles Bon and the octoroon to get rid of Judith, and Charles Bon and Clytie to get rid of Henry; and Charles Bon's mother and Charles Bon's grandmother got rid of Charles Bon. So it takes two n.i.g.g.e.rs to get rid of one Sutpen, dont it?" Quentin did not answer; evidently Shreve did not want an answer now; he continued almost without a pause: "Which is all right, it's fine; it clears the whole ledger, you can tear all the pages out and burn them, except for one thing. And do you know what that is?" Perhaps he hoped for an answer this time, or perhaps he merely paused for emphasis, since he got no answer. "You've got one n.i.g.g.e.r left. One n.i.g.g.e.r Sutpen left. Of course you cant catch him and you dont even always see him and you never will be able to use him. But you've got him there still. You still hear him at night sometimes. Dont you?"

"Yes," Quentin said.

"And so do you know what I think?" Now he did expect an answer, and now he got one: "No," Quentin said.

"Do you want to know what I think?"

"No," Quentin said.

"Then I'll tell you. I think that in time the Jim Bonds are going to conquer the western hemisphere. Of course it wont quite be in our time and of course as they spread toward the poles they will bleach out again like the rabbits and the birds do, so they wont show up so sharp against the snow. But it will still be Jim Bond; and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings. Now I want you to tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?"

"I dont hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I dont hate it," he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!

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