As I Lay
Death of Addie:
stands beside the bed. From behind his leg Vardaman peers, with his
round head and his eyes round and his mouth beginning to open. She
looks at pa; all her failing life appears to drain into her eyes,
urgent, irremediable. "Itís Jewel she wants, " Dewey Dell says.
"Why, Addie" pa says, "him and Darl went to make one
more load. They thought there was time. That you would wait for
them, and that three dollars and allÖ" He stoops, laying his hand on
hers. For a while yet she looks at him, without reproach, without
anything at all, as if her eyes alone are listening to the
irrevocable cessation of his voice. Then she raises herself, who has
not moved in ten days. Dewey Dell leans down, trying to press her
"Ma," she says; "ma"
She is looking out the window, at Cash stooping
steadily at the board in the failing light, labouring on toward
darkness and into it as though the stroking of the saw illuminated
its own motion, board and saw engendered.
"You, Cash," she shouts, her voice harsh, strong,
and unimpaired. "You, Cash!"
He looks up at the gaunt face framed by the window
in the twilight. It is a composite picture of all time since he was
a child. He drops the saw and lifts the board for her to see,
watching the window in which the face has not moved. He drags a
second plank into position and slants the two of them into their
final juxtaposition, gesturing toward the ones yet on the ground,
shaping with his empty hand in pantomime the finished box. For a
while still she looks down at him from the composite picture,
neither with censure nor approbation. Then the face disappears.
She lies back and turns her head without so much as
glancing at pa. She looks at Vardaman; her eyes, the life in them,
rushing suddenly upon them; the two flames glare up for a steady
instant. Then they go out as though someone had leaned down and
blown upon them.
Light in August, 1932
Death of Joe Christmas:
It was upon them, of them: its shameless savageness.
Out of it their faces seemed to glare with bodiless suspension as
though from haloes as they stooped and raised Hightower, his face
bleeding, from the floor where Christmas, running up the hall, his
raised and armed and manacled hands full of glare and glitter like
lightening bolts, so that he resembled a vengeful and furious god
pronouncing a doom, had struck him down. They held the old man on
"Which room?" Grimm said, shaking him. "Which room,
"Gentlemen!" Hightower said. Then he said: "Men!
"Which room, old man?" Grimm shouted.
They held Hightower on his feet; in the gloomy hall,
after the sunlight, he to with his bald head and his big pale face
streaked with blood, was terrible. "Men!" he cried. "Listen to me.
He was here that night. He was with me the night of the murder. I
swear to God óó"
"Jesus Christ! Grimm cried, his young voice clear
and outraged like that of a
young priest. "Has every preacher and old maid in Jefferson taken
their pants down to the yellowbellied son of a bitch?" He flung the
old man aside and ran on.
It was as though he had been merely waiting for the
Player to move on him again, because with that unfailing certitude
he ran straight to the kitchen and into the doorway, already firing,
almost before he could have seen the table overturned and standing
on its edge across the corner of the room, and the bright and
glittering hands of the man who crouched behind it, resting on the
upper edge. Grimm emptied the automaticís magazine into the table;
later someone covered all five shots with a folded handkerchief.
But the Player was not done yet. When the others
reached the kitchen they saw the table flung aside now and Grimm stooping over
the body. When they approached to see what he was about, they saw
that the man was not dead yet, and when they saw what Grimm was
doing one of the men gave a chocked cry and stumbled back into the
wall and began to vomit. Then Grimm too sprang back, flinging behind
him the bloody butcher knife. "Now youíll let white women alone,
even in hell," he said. But the man on the floor had not moved. He
just lay there, with his eyes open and empty of everything save
consciousness, and with something, a shadow, about his mouth. For a
long moment he looked up at
them with peaceful and unfathomable and unbearable eyes. Then his
face, body, all, seemed to collapse, to fall in upon itself, and
from out the slashed garment about his hips and loins the pent black
blood seemed to rush like a released breath. It seemed to rush out
of his pale body like a rush of sparks from a rising rocket; upon
that black blast the man seemed to rise soaring into their memories
forever and ever. They are not to lose it, in whatever peaceful
valleys, beside whatever placid and reassuring streams of old age,
in the mirroring faces of whatever children they will contemplate
old disasters and newer hopes. It will be there, musing, quiet,
steadfast, not fading and not particularly threatful, but of itself
alone serene, of itself alone triumphant. Again from the town,
deadened a little by the walls, the scream of the siren mounted
toward its unbelievable crescendo, passing out of the realm of
Death of McCaslin:
"Then go," he said. Then he cried again in that thin
not loud grieving voice: "Get out of here! I can do nothing for you!
Canít nobody do nothing for you!" She moved; she was not looking at him
again, toward the entrance. "Wait," he said. She paused again,
obediently still, turning. He took up the sheaf of banknotes and
laid it on the blanket at the foot of the cot and drew his hand back
beneath the blanket. "There," he said.
Now she looked at the money, for the first time, one
brief blank glance, then away again. " I donít need it. He gave me
money last winter. Besides the money he sent to Vicksburg. Provided.
Honor and code too. That was all arranged."
"Take it," he said. His voice began to rise again,
but he stopped it. "Take it out of my tent." She came back to the
cot and took the money; whereupon once more he said, "Wait:"
although she had not turned, still stooping, and he put out his
hand. But, sitting, he could not complete the reach until she moved
her hand, the single hand which held the money, until he touched it.
He didnít grasp it, he merely touched it ó the gnarled, bloodless,
bone-dry old manís fingers touching for a second the smooth young
flesh where the strong old blood ran after its long lost journey
back to home. "Tennieís Jim," he said. "Tennieís Jim." He drew the
hand back beneath the blanket again: he said harshly now: "Itís a
boy, I reckon. They usually are, except that one was its own mother
"Yes," she said. "Itís a boy," She stood for a
moment longer, looking at him. Just for an instant her free hand
moved as though she were about to lift the edge of the raincoat away
from the childís face, But she did not. She turned again when once
more he said Wait and moved beneath the blanket.
"Turn your back," he said. "I am going to get up. I
ainít got my pants on." Then he could not get up. He sat in the
huddled blanket, shaking, while again she turned and looked down at
him in dark interrogation. "There," he said harshly, in the thin and
sharking old manís voice. "On the nail there.
"What?" she said.
"The horn!" he said harshly. "The horn." She went
and got it, thrust the money into the slickerís side pocket as if it
were a rag, a soiled handkerchief, and lifted down the horn, the one
which General Compson had left him in his will, covered with
unbroken skin from a buckís shank and bound with silver.
"What?" she said.
"Itís his. Take it."
"Oh," she said. "Yes. Thank you."
"Yes," he said, harshly, rapidly, but not so harsh
now and soon not harsh at all but just rapid, urgent, until he knew
that his voice was running away with him and he had neither intended
it nor could stop it: "Thatís right. Go back North. Marry: a man in
your own race. Thatís the only salvation for you ó for a while yet,
maybe a long while yet. We will have to wait. Marry: a black man.
You are young, handsome, almost white; you could find a black man
who would see in you what it was you saw in him, who would ask
nothing of you and expect less and get even still less than that, if
itís revenge you want. Then you will forget all this, forget it ever
happened, that he ever existedó" until he could stop it at last and
did, sitting there in his huddle of blankets during the instant
when, without moving at all, she blazed silently down at him. Then
that was gone too. She stood in the gleaming and still dripping
slicker, looking quietly down at him from under the sodden hat.
"Old man," she said, "have you lived so long and
forgotten so much that you donít remember anything you ever knew or
felt or even heard about love?"
Then she was gone too. The waft of light and the
murmur of the constant rain flowed into the tent and then out again
as the flap fell. Lying back one more, trembling, panting, the
blanket huddled to his chin and his hands crossed on his breast, he
listened to the pop and snarl, the mounting then fading whine of the
motor until it died away and once again the tent held only silence
and the sound of rain. And cold too: he lay shaking faintly and
steadily in it, rigid save for the shaking. This Delta, he thought:
which man has deswamped and denuded and derivered in two generations
so that white men can own plantations and commute every night to
Memphis and black men own plantations and ride in Jim Crow cars to
Chicago to live in millionaireís mansions on Lake Shore Drive; where
white men rent farms and live like niggers and niggers crop on
shares and live like animals; where cotton is planted and grows
man-tall in very cracks of the sidewalks, and usury and mortgage and
bankruptcy and measureless wealth, Chinese and African and Aryan and
Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which
one is which nor caresÖ
No wonder the
ruined woods I used to know donít cry for retribution! He thought:
The people who have destroyed it will accomplish its revenge.
The tent flap jerked rapidly in and fell. He did not
move save to turn his head and open his eyes. It was Legate. He went
quickly to Edmondís bed and stooped, rummaging hurriedly among the
"What is it?" he said.
"Looking for Rothís knife," Legate said. "I come
back to get a horse. We got a deer on the ground." He rose, the
knife in his hand, and hurried toward the entrance.
"Who killed it?" McCaslin said. "Was it Roth?"
"Yes," Legate said, raising the flap.
"Wait," McCaslin said. He moved, suddenly, onto his
elbow. "What was it?" Legate paused for an instant beneath the
lifted flap. He did not look back.
"Just a deer, Uncle Ike." He said impatiently.
"Nothing extra." He was gone; again the flap fell behind him,
wafting out of the tent again the faint light and the constant and
grieving rain. McCaslin lay back down, the blanket once more drawn
to his chin, his crossed hands once more weightless on his breast in
the empty tent.
"It was a doe," he said.