of Granny Weatherall, 1929
Death of Granny Weatherall:
Cornelia’s voice staggered and bumped like a cart in
a bad road. It rounded corners and turned back again and arrived
nowhere. Granny stepped up in the cart very lightly and reached for
the reins, but a man sat beside her and she knew him by his hands,
driving the cart. She did not look in his face, for she knew without
seeing, but looked instead down the road where the trees leaned over
and bowed to each other and a thousand birds were singing a Mass.
She felt like singing too, but she put her hand in the bosom of her
dress and pulled out a rosary, and Father Connolly murmured Latin in
a very solemn voice and tickled her feet. My God, will you stop that
nonsense? I’m a married woman. What if he did run away and leave me
to face the priest by myself? I found another a whole world better.
I wouldn’t have exchanged my husband for anybody except St. Michael
himself, and you may tell him that for me with a thank you in the
Light flashed on her closed eyelids, and a deep
roaring shook her. Cornelia, is that lightening? I hear thunder.
There’s going to be a storm. Close all the windows. Call the
children in. . . . "Mother, here we are, all of us." "Is that you
Hapsy?" "Oh, no, I’m Lydia. We drove as fast as we could." Their
faces drifted above her. The rosary fell out of her hands, and Lydia
put it back. Jimmy tried to help, their hands fumbled together, and
Granny closed two fingers around Jimmy’s thumb. Beads wouldn’t do,
it must be something alive. She was so amazed her thought ran round
and round. So, my dear Lord, this is my death and I wasn’t even
thinking about it. My children have come to see me die. But I can’t,
it’s not time. Oh, I always hated surprises. I wanted to give
Cornelia the amethyst set — Cornelia, you’re to have the amethyst
set, but Hapsy’s to wear it when she wants, and, Doctor Harry, do
shut up. Nobody sent for you. Oh, my dear Lord, do wait a minute. I
mean to do something about the Forty Acres, Jimmy doesn’t need it
and Lydia will later on, with that worthless husband of hers. I
meant to finish the altar cloth and send six bottles of wine to
Sister Borgia, Father Connolly, now don’t let me forget.
Cornelia’s voice made short turns and tilted over
and crashed. "Oh, Mother, oh, Mother, oh, Mother…."
"I’m not going, Cornelia, I’m taken by surprise, I
You’ll see Hapsy again. What about her? "I thought
you’d never come." Granny made a long journey outward, looking for
Hapsy. What if I don’t find her? What then? Her heart sank down and
down, there was no bottom to death, she couldn’t come to the end of
it. The blue light form Cornelia’s lampshade drew into a tiny point
in the center of her brain, it flickered and winked like an eye,
quietly it fluttered and dwindled. Granny lay curled down within
herself, amazed and watchful, staring at the point of light that was
herself; her body was now only a deep mass of shadow in an endless
darkness and this darkness would curl around the light and swallow
it up. God, give a sign!
For the second time there was no sign. Again no
bridegroom and the priest in the house. She could not remember any
other sorrow because this grief wiped them all away. Oh, no, there’s
nothing more cruel than this — I’ll never forgive it. She stretched
herself with a deep breath and blew out the light.
Pale Rider, 1936
Miranda’s Death Nightmare, Adam’s Death
The two living men lifted a mattress standing
hunched against the wall, spread it tenderly and exactly over the
dead man. Wordless and white they vanished down the corridor,
pushing the wheeled bed before them. It had been an entrancing and
leisurely spectacle, but now it was over. A pallid white fog rose in
the wake insinuatingly and floated before Miranda’s eyes, a fog in
which was concealed all terror and all weariness, all the wrung
faces and twisted backs and broken feet of abused, outraged living
things, all the shapes of their confused pain and their estranged
hearts; the fog might part at any moment and loose the horde of
human torments. She put up her hands and said, not yet, not yet, but
it was too late. The fog parted and two executioners, white clad,
moved towards her pushing between them with marvelously deft and
practiced hands the misshapen figure of an old man in filthy rags
whose scanty beard waggled under his open mouth as he bowed his back
and braced his feet to resist and delay the fate they had prepared
for him. In a high weeping voice he was trying to explain to them
that the crime of which he was accused did not merit the punishment
he was about to receive; and except for this whining cry there was
silence as they advanced. The soiled cracked bowls of the old man’s
hands were held before him beseechingly as a beggar’s as he said,
"Before God I am not guilty," but they held his arms and drew him
onward, passed, and were gone.
The road to death is a long march beset with all
evils, and the heart fails little by little at each new terror, the
bones rebel at each step, the mind sets up its own bitter resistance
to what end? The barriers sink one by one, and no covering of the
eyes shuts out the landscape of disaster, or the sight of crimes
committed there. Across the field came Dr. Hildesheim, his face a
skull beneath his German helmet, carrying a naked infant writhing on
the point of his bayonet, and a huge stone pot marked Poison in
Gothic letter. He stopped before the well that Miranda remembered in
a pasture on her father’s farm, a well once dry but now bubbling
with living water, and into its pure depths he threw the child and
the poison, and the violated water sank back soundlessly into the
earth. Miranda, screaming, ran with her arms above her head; her
voice echoed and came back to her like a wolf’s howl, Hildesheim is
a Boche, a spy, a Hun, kill him, kill him before he kills you…She
woke howling, she heard foul words accusing Dr. Hildesheim tumbling
from her mouth; opened her eyes and knew she was in a bed in a small
white room, with Dr. Hildesheim sitting beside her, two firm fingers
on her pulse.
Death of the Basque, Echegaray:
Frau Hutten looked down and saw the boat being drawn
up with Bebe (her dog) sprawled in the bottom. She gave a shriek,
fell back against her husband’s chest so violently he almost
toppled, then fell forward as he seized her waist; he could feel by
the surge of her body that if he had not been holding her, she would
have gone forward full length upon her face.
The sailors lifted the long narrow body of the man
over the side, limp as seaweed, his bare feet with crooked toes
dangling, the shabby black wool scarf still knotted around his neck;
the water streamed from his clothes as they carried him carefully
back down to the steerage deck. Two sailors hoisted Bebe into Frau
Hutten’s opened arms. She tottered under his nerveless weight, let
him down on the deck, and kneeling beside him, wept aloud like a
mother at the graveside of her only child.
"How really revolting," said David Scott to Wilhelm
Freytag, who happened to be near. Herr Baumgartner heard and could
not refrain from protest.
"But grief is grief, pain is pain, Herr Scott, no
matter what the cause," he said, his mouth wan and drooping.
"Ah, the drooling German soul," said Freytag in pure
disgust, moving away, remembering with an unpleasant start that this
was a phrase of his wife’s, and one he had always resented from her.
Herr Professor Hutten, in a heavy sweat of humiliation, finally got
his wife to her feet, a sailor came forward to help his carry Bebe,
and the mournful little group disappeared. At this point it occurred
to Herr Lutz to suggest to one of the young officers that perhaps
Dr. Schumann should be sent for to attend to the nearly drowned man.
"They are already giving him resuscitation exercises," said the
officer, as a rebuff to officiousness. But he did send for Dr.
Schumann as, to be sure, he had intended to do without advise from a
… Father Garza, surrounded by weeping women and
gloomy men huddled on the floor in the stinking cabin beside the
bunk where the drowned man lay, rose from his knees and turned when
Dr. Schumann stood in the doorway. A weak naked light hung from the
ceiling, and a single candle burned on the small collapsible table
the priest had brought with him for the Viaticum ceremony. He blew
out the candle and assembled the sacred objects, and shook his head.
"Too late, I’m afraid," he said, smiling rather
cheerfully, "for material medica."
"Still," said Dr. Schumann, "there is something to
be done," and he advanced his stethoscope and sat on the edge of the
grimly dirty bunk where the dead man, naked to the waist, washed and
purified by the salt sea, lay at perfect ease in the state of
dignity of his death.
Dr. Schumann in his long experience as unwilling
of death in nearly all its aspects had never lost his awe and
tenderness for that Presence. He felt it now, again, an almost
visible shade hovering over them. He knew by all the signs and all
his senses that the man was dead, yet he continued for some time to
listen intently through his instrument for some flutter or whisper
of life in the gaunt rib cage and the sunken famished belly of the
long body with its great knotted shoulder joints, the skeleton arms,
the big warped hands, now curled inward like a child’s. Nothing. He
rose and took a last glimpse at the dark melancholy exhausted face
now closed in a secretive faint smile. The women, huddled together
near the dead man’s feet, began praying aloud, their rosaries
clicking, and one of the men came forward and crossed the limp hands
on the breast, and tenderly covered him up.