1 he apples hung until a wind at the equinox,
That heaped the beach with black weed, filled the dry grass
Under the old trees with rosy fruit.
In the morning Fayne Fraser gathered the sound ones into a
The bruised ones into a pan. One place they lay so thickly
She knelt to reach them.
Her husband’s brother passing
Along the broken fence of the stubble-field,
His quick brown eyes took in one moving glance
A little gopher-snake at his feet flowing through the stubble
To gain the fence, and Fayne crouched after apples
With her mop of red hair like a glowing coal
Against the shadow in the garden. The small shapely reptile
Flowed into a thicket of dead thistle-stalks
Around a fence-post, but its tail was not hidden.
The young man drew it all out, and as the coil
Whipped over his wrist, smiled at it; he stepped carefully
Across the sag of the wire. When Fayne looked up
His hand was hidden; she looked over her shoulder
And twitched her sunburnt lips from small white teeth
To answer the spark of malice in his eyes, but turned
To the apples, intent again. Michael looked down
At her white neck, rarely touched by the sun,
But now the cinnabar-colored hair fell off from it;
And her shoulders in the light-blue shirt, and long legs like a boy’s
Bare-ankled in blue-jean trousers, the country wear;
He stooped quietly and slipped the small cool snake
Up the blue-denim leg. Fayne screamed and writhed,
Clutching her thigh. ‘Michael, you beast.’ She stood up
And stroked her leg, with little sharp cries, the slender invader
Fell down her ankle.
Fayne snatched for it and missed;
Michael stood by rejoicing, his rather small
Finely cut features in a dance of delight;
Fayne with one sweep flung at his face
All the bruised and half-spoiled apples in the pan,
A fragrant volley, and while he staggered under it,
The hat fallen from his head, she found one thoroughly
Soft-rotten, brown in the long white grass, and threw
For the crown of his dark head but perfectly missed,
Crying ‘Quits. We’re even.’ They stood and warily smiled at each
In the heavy-sweet apple air.
The garden was sunken lower than
the little fields; it had many fragrances
And its own shadow, while the cows lay in the stream-bed, large
sycamore leaves dropped on their flanks; the yellow
Heads of the hills quivered with sun and the straining sea-glare.
Fayne said, ‘Where did it go, poor thing?’
Looking for the little serpent. Michael said gravely, ‘That’s to
remember me by. I wish I could do worse.
I’m going away.’ ‘What?’ ‘From here again.’
‘Oh, no.’ ‘I am, though.’ ‘No, Michael.’
‘Freckles,’ he answered, ‘didn’t it ever occur to you
That it’s fairly dull here? I’m going up to town again.
I’ve got to earn money and spend it and hear the motors.’
She said dismally, ‘What about me? Who’ll there be to talk to?’
‘Lance, of course.’ ‘I love him dearly; he’s not fun exactly.
He wouldn’t stick a rattlesnake up my leg.’
‘Gopher-snake,’ he shouted. They stood and laughed at each
And Michael: ‘I was over the ridge to Drunken Charlie’s,
Fixing up a little party for Saturday.
There’ll be a moon in the evening. I leave Monday.’
Fayne said unhappily, ‘Help me pick up the apples
I poured on you.’
Michael was taking Mary Abbey;
The Dolmans came, and Will Howard with two girls,
And Leo Ramirez with his sister Nell, so that the youth
Of the coast was all there. They met at Erasers’
And crossed the ridge; and were picketing the horses
Where they could ride no farther, on the airy brink
Above the great slides of the thousand-foot cliff.
They were very gay, colorful mites on the edge of the world.
The men divided the pack to carry;
Lance Eraser, being strongest, took most.
Far down below, the
broad ocean burned like a vast cat’s eye
Pupilled by the track of sun; but eastward, beyond the white-
grassed hump of the ridge, the day moon stood bleak
And badly shaped, face of stained clay, above the limestone fang
of one of the Ventana mountains
Just its own color. Lance, looking back, saw his wife talking to
Michael, her cinnabar-colored hair
Like a flag of life against the pale east. That moment he saw the
horses plunging against the sky
And heard a noise like a sharp head of water from a narrow pipe;
a girl cried out,
Lance dropped his pack and returned. Will Howard was looking
But found none, but Lance found a burnt fence-post, relic of an
ancient fire. The snake lay with raised head,
The rattle of its tail making that noise of sharp water running; a
big rattler, but very small
At bay in the circle of the laughing men. Lance struck for its head,
but the snake that moment struck at the rope’s end
That Michael was flicking at it, so that Lance’s blow failed, the
fence-post broke to bits in his hand,
The snake not harmed; then Michael laughing with pleasure
whipped the creature to death with the doubled rope
And set his heel on the head; Lance damned all rotten wood, his
blond face flushing
Dark through the sunburn. Michael cut off the victim’s
Tail with the ten rattles to give to Mary;
The other young men quieted the horses, and caught
One that had dragged away the bush it was tied to.
Lance would not wait, he picked up his pack and went
Alone down the zigzag path; but after a moment
His temper cleared.
Far down, short of the cat’s-eye ocean, they
saw like a brown pebble
Drunken Charlie’s hut in a gorge of the cliff, a feather of smoke,
and his boat like a split berry
Of bladdery seaweed up the thin strand; and Lance stood waiting
down the wild cliff side, his light-brown hair
Golden with sun, his hat and the pack laid down. The warm wind
up the mountain was wild with fragrance,
Chiefly the scent of the chiya bushes, that wear rosettes of seed
Strung on the stem. The girls squealed as they scrambled down,
when the brittle trap-rock broke underfoot,
Small fragments ran over on the next below. When they came to
the foot of the cliff Michael said, ‘Now,’ and offered
A bottle hot from his pocket. ‘It’s time.’ Mary Abbey refused
it but the others drank, from mouth to mouth,
Stinging fire from the slobbered bottle-neck.
The sun was low
But had played all day on this southwestward
Cliff over the burning-glass water and the air
Still swirled with heat; the headland of Eraser’s Point
Stopped off the trade-wind here. Fayne Fraser a little dizzily
Looked seaward, left of the blazing sun-track, and saw the track
of the northwest gale and the running waves
Like an endless army of horse with banners going by offshore;
her eyes followed them, a ruled line southward
Of violent water, converging toward the bronze headland beyond
headland of the mountain coast; and someone was saying,
‘It’s hot, we’ll swim.’ ‘Before we eat,’ someone said.
The girls twittered together and clustered northward
To a little cove beyond a fair spit of rock;
The men remained on this side.
Fayne undressed beside Mary
And was careful of words, because she’d sucked from the bottle
more than she meant to, and had small experience of drinking.
She said carefully, ‘Where did those girls of Will Howard’s
come from?’ ‘Nina told me,’ she answered; ‘waitresses
Down from the city on their vacation.’ ‘Honestly are they? I
guessed it.’ ‘No,’ Mary said, ‘they’re nice girls.’
‘That yellow-haired one, she’s bad.’ ‘No,’ Mary said. Fayne
said, ‘Did you see her face when she looked at Michael
Across that bottle?’ ‘Oh, no,’ Mary answered. ‘. . . Well. Are
you ready, Mary? Let’s go.’
They limped down to the waves, giggling and wincing.
Fayne had tied a broad handkerchief around her hair
To shed the spray; she swam out farther than others,
Mary remained along shore.
The other side of the rock-spit
The men had bathed, and had come up strand again
To dry by the driftwood fire; all except Michael,
Who loved to swim. Lance Fraser stood by the fire, his broad
smooth chest, grooved between the square plates
Of heavy muscle, steamed and was ruddy in the glowing heat. He
narrowed his eyes to look seaward
And saw Michael’s left arm, over the speck of his head, lift, reach
Swimming side-stroke; two white arms flashing swanlike on either
side of a handkerchief-hooded head
Emerged from the scales of light on the edge of the sun-dazzle.
The swimmers approached each other,
And met this side the long brown stain of the breathing kelp-bed.
But only thinking that they were too far out
And making a show of themselves.
On the pleasant water
Michael had called to Fayne, ‘I’ve something for you.
Come here a minute.’ She hardly dared, and thought
In the flashing joy of the sea, ‘Oh, the water covers us.
What have you got?’ ‘Gin for girls.
We’ve got a fire on this side.’ They met laughing,
And reached the bottle from hand to hand and floated decorously
Separate again. Fayne looked toward shore, and saw the vast
cliff in the flare of sundown soaring above
Like beaten gold, the imperfect moon-disk gold on its brow; the
tiny distinct white shapes of men
Around their spot of fire in the flat blue sea-shadow. She breathed
hard and said,
‘My God, how beautiful. Oh, Michael, stay here at home.’
He answered with a watery yell of pleasure, submerging his
To roar as the sea-lions do.
Fayne trailed the bottle
And swam ashore. There was nothing to dry herself with;
The chill of the water had touched her blood, she sucked breath
Through clicking teeth. She sipped from the salted bottle,
And dressed, but shivered still.
She sunned herself by the fire,
Watching with fascinated speculation of pain
The antennae of lobsters like spikes of jointed grass
Above the heating water in a five-gallon tin
Writhe at the sky, lives unable to scream.
Under the vast calm vaulting glory of the afterglow, low smoky
rose and delicately
Stratified amber, soaring purple; then rose again, luminous and
virginal, floating the moon,
High up a scoured hollow of the cliff
Cormorants were settling to roost on the jags and ledges.
They writhed long Negro snake-throats and shot
Sharp heads at each other, shaking out sooty wings
And angry complaining cries.
Below, on the thread of beach,
The lonely fisherman who was called Drunken Charlie,
Fire glowing on his drugged eyes, wide beard and lank hair,
Turned meat on the grid over the barbecue-pit
And talked to himself all the time. Michael Fraser knelt
By a turned chest that served for table and poured
From a jug into cups, fierce new distillate
From Charlie’s cliff -hidden kettle.
Faync Eraser shook half-dried
The color of the coals at the heart of the fire
But darkening as light decreased, and went to Lance
Who stood alone at the waves’ edge, turning his back on the
world, and the wet sand
Raised by his weight on either side of his foot-soles ran water and
glistened in the still light. Fayne said
‘Are you cross, dear?’ She pushed up his rolled sleeve and clasped
her fingers on the broad trunk of his arm
Above the elbow, ‘Dear, are you sad?’ ‘I? No,’ he said, ‘What
about?’ ‘You haven’t spoken to anyone
Since we were swimming.’ ‘Why should I? You were out too
far, though.’ ‘Oh, I can swim.
And Michael was there to help me if I’d got tired.’ ‘By God, no,’
Lance said, with a sharp vision in his mind
Of her bright nakedness, the shining whiteness and the red hair.
She understood and said softly, ‘Well,
I didn’t need help. But he’s our brother.’ ‘Certainly; I didn’t
mind him,’ he answered. ‘But I did hate
To think that rabble of girls could look at you; it isn’t decent.’
She said, ‘They didn’t seem interested.
Come, drink and eat. Those waitress women are passing the paper
plates.’ He saw that vision once more,
The form and whiteness, the little gay-colored flower of the
pubic hair, and groaned, as a thick bull
Alone in the field groans to himself, not knowing why the hot
brow and the hooves itch for destruction.
Fayne to cure his unhappiness hasted and returned
Fetching two cups of the fire Michael was pouring.
After they had
eaten, twilight and moonlight came;
The fire burned smaller and brighter; they were twelve around
it; and drinks were poured. The bearded fisherman seemed
Stiffly asleep, with open eyes like a drowned man’s
Glazed by the yellow firelight. Tom Dolman and Leo Ramirez
Roughed at each other, and Nina Dolman
Sitting between them cried out; then Michael said,
‘Get up and wrestle.’ All but the fisherman turned
To watch them circle clumsily on the damp sand
And suddenly lock, into one quadruped body reeling
Against the dark band of ocean and the low sky.
Ramirez had the low hold but Dolman was the heavier man;
They tugged and sobbed; Ramirez was lifted high
And writhed on the other’s shoulder by the evening star,
But the strained column staggered and crumbled, the Spaniard
Fell uppermost and was the first to rise up.
Michael asked very gravely, ‘Who was the winner?
The winner may challenge Lance.’ Ramirez gasping and laughing
Said, ‘Drunk; not to that extent.’ ‘Then gather firewood.
The fire’s got low.’
The yellow-haired one of the two girls Will
Howard had brought
Sat in the sand beside Lance Fraser; she leaned on his shoulder
and held a cup to his mouth and said
‘Please drink it for me: things are beginning to go ’round in
circles.’ He drank; then Fayne on his other side
Grew suddenly cool and quite clear; she leaned across him and
said, ‘That hair in the cup! Well, you drank it.
Her bleaches have made it brittle so it keeps falling.’ ‘Oh,’ the
other gasped, ‘that’s not true.’ ‘It’s pretty,’ Fayne said,
‘Only the black half inch at the roots. Is your name Lois? What’s
your name?’ ‘Lois.’ ‘Lean the other way,
Lois.’ Then Lance said angrily, ‘Be quiet, will you,’ and got up
To fetch more firewood.
A timber from one of the four ships
That have broken in half a century off Fraser’s Point
Lay near and dry; Ramirez and Howard had brought it,
But the axe was lost in the sand. Lance up-ended it,
An ivory-white pillar under the moon,
Garnished with great iron bolts. He wedged his fingers
Into a crack and suddenly straining tore it in two;
The splitting made a great noise under the cliff,
The sea being quiet. Lance felt himself curiously
Numbed, as if the sharp effort had strained the whiskey
Out of his blood through the sheathes of his nerves;
His body obeyed as ever but felt a distance
Blocked off and alien. He took the halves of the timber
Under each arm and a bolt in his hand,
For two or three had fallen out of the wood,
This one straight, long and heavy. After he had laid
His logs on the fire he saw the fisherman’s
Firelight-discolored eyes, and called ‘Hey! Charlie.’
Still the man slept. Lance, wavering a little, reached
Over Will Howard’s shoulder and took the cup from his hand,
Drank half, poured the other half on Charlie’s long hair;
It dribbled into his beard; he coughed and awoke.
Lance said ‘D’you ever have rattlesnakes down here?
I snicked at one up the cliff with a rotten stick;
But this’d fix ’em.’ He gave him the iron bar;
Charlie posted it carefully up in the sand
Between his feet and answered, ‘Mm; but there’s Injuns.’
‘What?’ ‘All that was cleared out of the country.
Where did you think they got to? They ain’t got ships.
Down here they are.’ The dark-haired girl that Will Howard
Suddenly stood up from the fire, she went toward the sea and
was heard vomiting. Charlie nodded and said,
‘There’s one o’ them now. Most nights I see their fires away
down the beach.’ Mary Abbey whispered to Michael,
‘Don’t take any more. Time to go home.’ ‘Ah no,’ he said,
‘dear, we just got here.’ Fayne came to Lance
And said, ‘Don’t drink any more. Time to go home.’ He an-
swered briskly, ‘Since when are you giving orders?’
‘Since you’re not fit to.’ She knew while the words made in her
throat, ‘Now he’ll be angry,’ a pale rush of anger
Ran to meet his; the memory of all his bad-tempered times, his
heavy earnestness and lack of laughter,
Pierced like a mountain-peak the cloud in her mind, ‘Oh, I do
He stared, more astonished than angry, and saw her face
Lean, sharp, bled white, each freckle black as a mole
Against its moon-gleam pallor. ‘That’s how you feel, ah?’
He turned his back. She thought, ‘He’ll never forgive me:
Let him not,’ and saw the Dolmans, Nina and Tom,
Seeking the way up the cliff, Mary Abbey with them,
Fayne went and said, ‘Michael, I’ve lost my cup,
Aren’t there any more cups?’ ‘I’ll hold the jug:
You hold your mouth.’ ‘Oo, I need water with it.’
‘No, you don’t.’ Half of the sip went strangling
Into her throat, half ran by her little chin
And trickled between her breasts. She looked at the fire,
Then at the moon, both blurred fantastically,
Red burrowed, white wavered high. Michael said, ‘My girl’s
Fayne said, ‘Oh, and yours?’ He said ‘That’s no sense. That’s
She laughed and answered, ‘They don’t.’
The moon suspended
in her great antelope-leap from the head of the cliff
Hung pouring whiteness along the narrow runway of sand and
slide-rock under the continent’s foot,
A watery glittering and secret place, walled from the world,
closed by the cliff, ditched by the ocean.
Drunken Charlie dreamed by the dying fire;
Will Howard and Nell Ramirez were one slight point
Far down the white beach. Yellow-haired Lois
Spilled her drink and said, ‘Seeing is believing.
Come on, I’ll show you.’ She smiled at Lance, ‘Come, dear.
Sadie’s passed out; it’s all right wi’ Sadie,’
And to Leo Ramirez, ‘Come if you like, dark boy.’
He swayed and stammered, ‘Responsible; Sister Nell.
Keep an eye on young sister.’ ‘Ah, go and find her.’
‘Not till I see the picture on Sadie’s stomach.’
They wandered toward Drunken Charlie’s little hollow skiff
And its black shadow, drawn up the moonlight strand.
Lance thought, ‘Here’s a boat, let’s break it,’ and thought with
an ache of shame,
‘I wouldn’t think that, only being drunk.’ The center of his
mind made savage war on rebellious out-liers
In breathless darkness behind the sweating forehead; while Leo
Ramirez, seeing the bright fish-scales glued
With blood and slime to the boat-thwarts glitter like a night of
stars, began to sing a stale song: ‘We’ll always,
Be young and gay. We’ll always, feel that way.’ Lois said ‘Shut
up,’ and led them around the boat,
Her friend lay in the moonlight nestled against it. Lois knelt
down and gently drew her by the shoulder;
She groaned in her sleep, resisting. Lois laughed, ‘The boys want
to see it, Sadie,’ and tugged, and turned her
Onto her back, the stained pale face up to the moonlight; the
teeth in the opened mouth glittered,
And sour breath crossed them, while Lois turned up the blouse,
loosened the band and jerked up the linen shift
To show a three-masted sailing-ship tattooed with black and red
inks on the soft white belly
Below the breasts. ‘My God,’ Ramirez said, ‘there it is.’
Lois answered, ‘A fellow dared her,’ and looked for Lance,
Who trembled and said, ‘Cover her up, damn you.’
Lois blinking drew down the blouse. Ramirez giggled,
‘My God, a U. S. flag at the peak,’ and reached
Over Lois’s shoulder to raise the cloth;
Lance struck and felled him, and stepping across him fallen
Leaned and strode toward the cliff and the red coals
That had been the fire.
Drunken Charlie lay on the sand,
The iron bolt erect by his feet; Lance caught it up
And smashed the jug, and saw the remnant of whiskey
Glitter among the shards to sink into sand.
He ground his teeth; he saw in his mind in the stream of images
A second jug, and began to search for it.
The tide had fallen, the
steep ribbon of beach was but little wider,
But the sea was become so flattened that no waves flashed. Enor-
mous peace of the sea, white quiet of the cliff,
And at their angle and focus a few faint specks of humanity
happy in liquor or released in sleep,
But Lance alone. Then noises like the cries of a woman scream-
ing, bird after bird of sharp-colored sound
Flew on the face of the cliff, tattered wild wings against jagged
rocks. On the cliff head the patient horses
Turned their ears, grooving small wrinkles about the roots of the
cartilage, but did not lift up their heads;
And the sea was not moved, nor the moonlight quivered. Will
Howard was lying beside Nell Ramirez; they’d fallen asleep
Before he had his desire; they sighed and stirred in the sand. He
murmured ‘Oh, somebody’s got hysterics,’
And wriggled his fingers, which had grown painfully numb
between her plump knees. But Lois, Leo Ramirez
And Drunken Charlie heard the sounds nearer; they went in a
wind of fear to find out their fountain,
And Sadie awoke in the sand and followed heavily,
Falling but once, catching her clothes that slipped,
Whining at the hollow pain in her skull.
Beyond a rock
Stood Lance, high white in the moon-glaze, distorted, taller than
Lois said, ‘Dearie?’ He babbled, ‘Oh Jesus Christ Oh Jesus
Christ Oh Jesus Christ,’
Behind him in a great shadow of her hair darkened
By the rock-shadow Fayne turned her white wedge of face
With three holes in it. She was kneeling, bent S-shape,
And seemed to stare up from the very ground. She said, ‘I think
It is finished. Water please. Water please.
He fell down from the cliff.’ Then Michael’s feet were seen,
And thence the prone extended ridge of his body
Ending indefinitely under Fayne’s face.
Lois cried, ‘He’s hurt.’ But they dared not approach
For Lance standing between, high and twisted
Like a dead tree. Lance said, ‘I . . .’ Fayne cried,
‘He fell down from the cliff.’ They all stood silent,
Lois’s mouth opened and closed on silence
Three times, then asked, ‘Is he hurt?’ Lance said, ‘Oh Christ.
I …’ Fayne cried so that his words were hidden,
And stood up and said, ‘He has died. Michael.
He was climbing the cliff and fell, his foot caught on that bush;
He struck his head on that rock, on that edge of rock.
It is all broken in. Oh, we loved him.’
Ramirez said, ‘What for did he climb up there?’
‘Have we drunk waterY* Fayne said. But Lance began
To shake, like a tall dead mast of redwood that men are felling,
It is half cut through, each dip of the axe the sonorous timber
quivers from the root up to the cloud,
He said ‘I caught them . . .’ ‘He caught him,’ Fayne cried,
‘when he fell but he could not save him.’ ‘I killed . . .’
‘You are wild with sorrow
He fell head down whether you’d tried to catch him or not.
You are not to blame.’ He said, ‘It is horrible
To hear the lies from her mouth like bees from a hot hive: I am
the one,’ but Fayne running to him
Made an animal moan in her throat in time to hide what he said.
She came to Lance, and her face
Like a held spear, and said, ‘Drunkard.
Too drunk to be understood. Keep still until you can talk and be
understood.’ He drew backward from her,
Shuddering like a horse from a snake, but when his back was
against the rock he stammered, ‘I
Will find my time.’ ‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘be quiet now. To-
morrow when you are better they’ll understand you.’
‘Is he dead?’ ‘Keep still. Will you shame his end
With drunkard babbling? For he was the dearest,’ she said, ‘in
the world to all of us. Lovelier than morning light
On the mountain before the morning. There is not one of us
would not have died for him: / would, / would, / would,’
She cried writhing, ‘but not lose Lance too. How can I plan to
save him, I’ve got what I can’t bear?
You are all our friends.’
She set her hands in the masses of red-dark hair, dark in the
moonlight, and tearing it, with her white face
To the white moon: ‘That eye’s blind. Like Juan Arriba’s old
mare he used to beat on the face,
Her eyes froze white like that. He was larking on the cliff and
fell.’ She seemed to be treading a tragic dance,
She was scuffling sand to cover the bolt of shipwreck that lay in
the shadow of the rock; she wrung her hands
And knelt moaning by Michael’s head; she rose with blood on her
hand and fibers of hair, and ran
To the rock under the cliff. ‘This rock killed him. He fell on this
edge,’ she drew her hand on the edge
And the rock was stained. Then Sadie was heard gasping from
her poor stained face. One or two looked at her. ‘O-uh,’
She whispered hoarsely, ‘we was having fun!’
Lance moved at
length, like a dead man walking, toward his dead brother,
And stooped as one stoops to gather a sleeping child. Fayne ran
and said, ‘No, the man. No, the man.
He has to come.’ Lance turned toward her his face like a para-
Slack with peace, and said softly, ‘The man.’
‘He’d think wrong has been done. I can’t think . . . coroner.
Don’t take him up.’ ‘Home?’ he said,
Seeming gently surprised; he gathered the body
Into his arms and walked along the foot of the cliff.
Fayne stayed behind a moment, the others following.
She cast quick looks over the rocks and sand;
One end of the rusty bolt was visible still;
She leaned toward it and fell on her face. She labored up
And went ten steps to the ebb and flung the iron
To the water edge.
Lance walked along the foot of the cliff.
He turned, not where the path went up, and walked
Into the face of the cliff, and stood there walking
Like an ox in a tread-mill, until Ramirez
Showed him the path. Fayne went up behind him.
Half way up
He awoke a moment out of his automatism
To feel failure and pain, his breathing like knives, and the failure
Of his eyes; it was impossible to see the path;
He checked a step and fell forward.
Fayne came up to him
And stood; there was nothing that she could do. They lay
Very peacefully together, Lance’s face
On his brother’s breast. She looked across them;
Terribly far down the moonlight cliff crouched the dark sea.
Ramirez came up and stood. Fayne said they had not the strength
to carry up either of the fallen, and so
They had to wait. They heard a faint breeze through the dry
bushes; and the crying of sea-lions far down below,
Where eight or ten were lying in a circle by the softly heaving
kelp-bed, as their custom is, and gazed
With great mild eyes at the sky and the night of water. Then
they sing in their manner, lifting up sleek
Dark-shining muzzles to the white moon, making a watery noise
of roaring and a lonely crying
For joy of life and the night.
At length Lance
Began to paw with his feet like a dreaming hound,
And some stones fell. He knelt and stood up
And took his burden and went up.
When they entered the sleep-
Fayne led the horse; Lance held his brother and rode behind him,
It would be hard to tell which one was slain
If the moon shone on their faces. The horse stopped and sighed
By the garden-gate; Lance did not move to dismount,
But sat and held up his brother. Fayne came beside,
Reaching to help; Lance whispered ‘Ah, ah, thank God.’
‘What?’ ‘He may be saved, Fayne.
He is hot under the arms and I heard him breathe.’
‘You heard the horse breathe,’ she said. They lifted down
The unmanageable weight.
Oh, ignorant penitents,
For surely the cause is too small for so much anguish.
To be drunk is a folly, to kill may call judgment down,
But these are not enormous evils,
And as for your brother, he has not been hurt.
For all the delights he has lost, pain has been saved him;
And the balance is strangely perfect,
And why are you pale with misery?
Because you have saved him from foolish labors and all the vain
From desires denied, and desires staled with attaining,
And from fear of want, and from all diseases, and from fear of
Or because you have kept him from becoming old,
When the teeth dropp and the eyes dim and the ears grow dull,
And the man is ashamed?
Surely it is nothing worse to be slain in the overflowing
Than to fall in the emptiness;
And though this moon blisters the night,
Darkness has not died, good darkness will come again;
Sometimes a fog will come in from sea,
Sometimes a cloud will crop all the stars.
The moonlight from the west window was a square cloth
Laid on the floor, with one corner on the bed,
Lying over Michael’s hand; they had taken him
To his own room. Fayne whispered: ‘Now we must tell them.
Your mother may dieher sick heart.
Don’t let her die too bitterly. For this one night, dear,
Say nothing worse than ‘Michael’s gone.’ Spare her something
Until she has cried. Four hours’ mercy. By morning
That heart of hers will be seasoned.’ Fayne strained in the dark
To see his face. He answered in a short while,
‘How many mornings I’ve come in here
And routed him out of bed. He always was a late sleeper.
Sound asleep, Mother.’ Fayne caught his arm. ‘Can’t you hear
‘You,’ he said, ‘keep your hands off! . . . Until morning
I’ll say he fell.’
It was not morning, but the moon was down.
The old mother sat by the bed with her hand on Michael’s, regu-
larly her great fat-swollen body
Jerked with a sob, and tears were spurted from her closed eyes.
Old Fraser sat with his fists evenly
Together on his knees, his bony face held erect, the brown eyes in
their hollows red with lamplight.
Fayne heard the noise of a motor starting and left the room.
He was backing out the big truck,
The shed was full of the headlight glare, the ruby tail-light
glowed by the axle. Before she could come
It had crept out; its light swung up the driveway by the stooping
And picked from darkness the heavy timbers of the high corrals
and the white beehives remote on the hill;
Fayne ran down the river of light to the gate and closed it, and
stood in the gate for fear he might smash through;
But Lance came wearily to open; stooping, tall,
Black on the light. She said, ‘Oh, where?’ ‘You know.
Tell dad to come to Salinas and get the truck;
There wasn’t enough gas in the little one.’
She answered, ‘Can the sheriff make us happy again?
Or the judge make Michael alive again?’ ‘Open the gate.’
‘Yes, dear. Listen to me. When Arriba and his boys
Stole cows of ours, did you run to the courthouse?
We take care of ourselves down here. What we have done
Has to be borne. It’s in ourselves and there’s no escaping,
The state of California can’t help you bear it.
That’s only a herd of people, the state.
Oh, give your heart to the hawks for a snack o’ meat
But not to men.’ When she touched him with her hands,
Pleading, he sighed and said, ‘If I’d been nearer
My decent mind, it would have been you, not Michael.
Did y’ love him? Or was it only because you’re female
And were drunk, female and drunk?’ ‘Oh. Hush. I was begging
Not to leave us, as I’m begging you. He promised me, dear.
He said he’d not go away. I kissed him for that; he was our
And you came behind.’ Lance’s blackness of his leaning bulk
Vibrated in the light-beam. ‘It’d be a pity for me then.
I can’t see clear, in the dirty streaming memories . . .
Don’t be afraid; your part will be secret.
I’ll say I killed him for nothing, a flea-bite quarrel,
Being beastly drunk.’ ‘He was killed,’ she answered, ‘for
‘It’s a great pity for me then.
Open the gate.’ She clung to the timber bolt
To hold it home in the slot, and felt his mind
Tearing itself. ‘Lance. Lance? Sweetheart:
Believe . . . whatever you need to save you.
I won’t give you up. You can’t remember what happened;
I tell you he fell from the cliff. But if your dreadful
Dream were true, I know you are strong enough
To give your heart to the hawks without a cry
And bear it in lonely silence to the end of life.
What else do you want? Ah. Confession’s a coward
Running to officers, begging help. Not you.’
The scrape of slow boots on gravel outside the light-stream,
Across the pulses of the idling motor, and suddenly cried,
‘He fell from the cliff.’ An old man said in the dark,
‘They ain’t got consideration. Where was you going
This time o’ night, after what’s happened? Your dad wants you.
Your ma’s took bad.’ Lance moaned and stood still.
Fayne said, ‘He was going to Lobos to telephone
The doct . . . the coroner. Dearest, you ought to go in.
She suffered great pain before, she was near death.
Old Davie will drive up the coast for you
When daylight comes.’ ‘Oh,’ he said stilly, and turned
His face to the fountains of light; it gleamed without meaning
In the stream of radiance like a stake in a stream,
Except that from exhaustion the pupils of the eyes
Failed to contract, so that their secret interiors
Of their chambers returned the light all sanguine.
At length he kneaded them with his fists and said,
‘I can’t see well. You’ll have to help me find the way in.
It’s not a trick of yours, uh?’
His mother lay on the floor,
For Michael’s body lay on the bed. The sun of pain at her heart
had rays like skewers of anguish
Along the left arm and up by the jugular arteries. She dared
not move; her face stood wet-white and still,
With live blue eyes; but the clay-pale lips opened and closed.
Old Eraser had swathed her in hasty blankets.
Fayne entered; Lance behind her stood swaying and stooping
in the door and saw his father
Crouched beside the great cocoon of the blankets; and Michael in
the bed above, and trinkets of Michael’s
That hung on the wall, gleam in the lamplight. The violence of
pain was brief; she whispered ‘better/* and breathed
With greedy shallow passion; her eyes found Lance.
grayed slowly into the room;
The lamp ran dry unnoticed. Lance and his father
Labored and carried the heavy old woman to bed.
Fayne brought them food, but Lance refused it. In the afternoon
He walked outdoors for a time, but nothing farther
Than the cattle-pens. Fayne must have been watching for him,
Because she went and walked by his side, and said,
When they were turned from the house, ‘Mary Abbey was here.
It seems she expected to marry Michael, though he never told us.
She cried a lot.’ Lance made no sign of hearing her.
Fayne said, looking up sidelong at his cheek and jaw,
Where the flesh hung thin on the bone: ‘Her griefs not
Like ours, forever; but sharp at present. If she ever
Imagined that you . . . how could we bear her looks? You are
too strong, dear,
To lay on weaker persons a burden
That you alone ought to bear.’ He strode faster
And stopped, muttering, ‘He lies up there, like that.
And my mother, like that; and I have done it;
And you talk about Mary Abbey.’ Fayne said, ‘I have no time
To choose names, for a man is coming to-day
To question us. He’s sent for. I have to tell you that you must
choose whether to relieve
Your own weakness , . . conscience I mean … by easy con-
Or bear the whole weight unhelped. The first way’s easy; you’ll
be acquitted; you’ll be left humbled and soiled,
But free; for confession is not enough; and you were too lost to
remember anything clearly; and I
Am the one witness. I saw him climb on the cliff and fall. So your
conscience will be well comforted,
And fairly cheap. Only your mother perhaps will die of it; your
father and I will swallow our portion;
And the crowd at Salinas
Will have had a good time watching your face in court. It would
be harder, if youVe a snake in your heart,
To keep it shut there.’
He was silent, and drew sharp breath and
said, ‘A red-haired one. Ah.
A white one with a red brush. Did you do it with him
Or not?’ ‘Leave that,’ she said stilly; ‘this choice is now?
He groaned and answered, ‘My mind’s not quick like yours.
. . . I’ll not lie to them.’ ‘Let me show your mind to you;
Be patient a moment still; if I seem cruel,
That’s to save, all that’s left. Look at yourself:
A man who believes his own sweet brother’s blood
Lies on his hands: yet
Too scrupulous to tell a lie, for his mother’s life.
Our minds are wonderful.’ He meditated, and answered
Heavily, ‘The sunlight seems dull but red.
What makes it red?’ ‘Your eyes are sick of not sleeping;
Or there’s a forest-fire in the south.’ ‘Our minds? Little bottles
That hold all hell. I seem too tired to feel it, though.
I’ll think, I’ll think.’
‘You have no time for thinking. He will come probably
Within this hour.’ ‘Who? Let him come. I’ll tell him
God made them male and female but men have made
So-and-so … I fall asleep while I talk . . . whiskey eh?
Lighted the sticky fire. It’s not possible
I’d ever done it except that I stumbled on you
In the heart of guilt. I know that.’ ‘Believe it then,’
She answered shrilly, and stood twitching her lips
In the white freckled face, in the reddish light of her hair,
‘If that will help.’ ‘Oh,’ he said.
‘… I wish you had picked from another tree.’
She answered: ‘You are to say that you found him dying.
You heard me cry, and he was down by the rock.
Isn’t that the truth exactly, because you remember
No previous thing? You heard me cry out; you came;
Michael was dying or had died. That’s all. You carried him home.
. . , I wish he’d come.’
But the man did not come
Until afternoon the next day. Dark weather, for a stagnant ocean
of cloud was hung on the sky,
And what light shone came colored like the taste of metal through
smoke of burning forests far to the south,
That veiled the coast, so that it seemed brown twilight
In the house, in Michael’s room. A lamp was lighted,
The death-wound viewed. ‘Who saw him fall?’ ‘I alone.
My husband and others came when I cried.’ ‘Where is your
‘With his mother,’ she answered faintly. ‘She had an attack,
Her heart, angina, and has to lie still. Shall I
Call him, sir?’ her voice hardening, her eyes
Growing hard and narrow. ‘Pretty soon. Was this young man
In trouble about anything?’ ‘No.’ ‘A girl?’ ‘He was engaged
To Miss Abbey.’ ‘They had a quarrel, ah?’ ‘No.’
‘Did he seem cheerful?’ ‘Very.’ ‘They always do.
Yesterday I had to drive by Elkhorn Slough
Because a very cheerful old man opened his throat
With his nephew T s pen-knife. I was two hours
Finding that place; the farmers around there they couldn’t tell
Whether Jesus Christ died on the cross
Or at the battle of Bull Run.’
Old Eraser had stood
Nerveless and dreaming over the livid face
Since they uncovered it; abruptly he turned his head
Above his bowed shoulder, saying ‘It’s enough.
Dog, blaspheme not. Go to your own place.
My son found death in recklessness, I fear in folly;
Write that and leave us alone; go hence and leave us
To mourn and hope.’ ‘Well, Mr. Fraser. You understand . . .’
‘I am very patient,’ the old man said, thrusting
His hollowed face toward the other, the closely set
Inflamed brown eyes pushing like the burnt end of a stick
That has been used to stir fire; the man stepped backward.
‘Did he say patient! . . . Well, is your husband here?’
Payne’s mouth jerked and froze hard, her hands quieted.
‘I will call him. Come to the room downstairs.’
She said at the foot of the stair, ‘This way, sir. It’s dark.
Will you have to go … to see the cliff, to see
The cliff?’ ‘Hm, what’s that?’ ‘Where he fell.’
‘Can we drive there?’ ‘No, ride and walk.’ ‘Look here,’
He said, ‘I’ve come sixty-five miles already.
You’re sure it was accidental?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well.
I always try to save the family feelings
When the case is not clear.’ He tried his pen,
Shook it, and wrote. Fayne watched, quiet and cold, thinking that
Would not have to be questioned; he was saved now;
And saw the man to his car. When he had gone
She thought that now she could laugh or cry if she wanted to,
Now Lance was saved, but her nerves and her mind stood quiet.
She looked at the dusty gate and the dark house-gable
In the stagnant air against the black cloud, and perceived that all
events are exact and were shaped beforehand,
And spaced in a steel frame; when they come up we know them;
there is nothing for excitement.
She went in,
And found Lance in the dark at the head of the stair, bent for-
ward like a great bird. ‘Has he gone, Fayne?’
‘Did you know he was here?’ ‘I will live on,’ he answered,
‘seems to be best. I loved him well; he died instantly,
No anger nor pain. Davis has dug a place by the children’s
On account of the dull weather
And closing twilight the group on the hilltop was hardly visible
in their vast scene. It was quite evident
That not only Pico Blanco against the north, and the gray Ven-
tanas, but even every dry fold
And gully of the humbler hills was almost by an infinite measure
of more importance
Than the few faint figures on the bare height,
The truck, and three saddled horses,
And some persons.
The old man swayed and shook, standing praying
At the head of a dug slot
Beside the pile of pale earth.
The heavy great brown-furred sky that covered all things made
a red point in the west, lost it and darkened,
And the Point Sur lighthouse made a thin stabbing from the
Swaying on his heels and toes the old man prayed:
‘Oh Lord our God, when thy churches fell off from thee
To go awhoring after organ music,
Singing-women and lecturers, then my people
Came out from among them; and when thy last church,
Thy little band, thy chosen, was turned at length
To lust for wealth and amusement and worldly vanities,
I cried against them and I came forth from among them.
I promised thee in that day that I and my house
Would remain faithful, thou must never despair;
I said, though all men forget thee thou hast a fort
Here in these hills, one candle burning in the infidel world,
And my house is thy people.
My children died,
And I laid them in this place and begot more children
To be thy servants, and I taught them thy ways, but they fell
away from thee.
They found their pleasure among the ungodly, and I believe
They made themselves drunk with wine, and my dear son is
He died on the shore. One half of the curse of Eli has fallen
He covered his face with his knotted hands and stood gasping,
And said, ‘I loved him. Here he is, Lord.
Surely thou hast forgiven his sins as I have forgiven them,
And wilt lift him to thy glory on the last day.’
The old man stood silent, lifting his face, and fixed his deep
close-set eyes, like the eyes of an old ape,
Small, dark and melancholy under the bar of the brow, between
the wide cheek-bones, fixed them far off
Across the darkening ridges and ocean upon that single red spot
that waned in the western sky,
And said ‘The world darkens and the end is coming.
I cannot beget more children; I am old and empty,
And my wife is old. All men have turned their faces away from
I alone am thy church. Lord God, I beseech thee not to despair,
But remember thine ancient power, and smite the ungodly on
And the faithless churches with utter destruction. For Jesus’
sake, amen.’ While he prayed, Fayne watched Lance
With pity and fear; and Mary Abbey, who was there with her
Kept stealing glances at Lance through her wet eyelashes.
She whispered to Fayne: ‘Oh, Lance looks dreadfully.
I never knew he loved him so dreadfully.’
Fayne answered, ‘Yes, he did’; and looked up at Lance
With pity and fear. ‘He looks as if he’d fall sick,’
Mary said. Fayne answered, ‘No, he is strong.
He hasn’t eaten since Michael died; maybe
He hasn’t slept.’ Mary said, wiping her eyes,
‘His face is so sad and fine, like carved marble.
They say he carried him all the way home, up that cliff.’
The old man ended his prayer, the redwood box
Was lowered with ropes; Lance had the weight at one end,
Old Fraser and Davis at the other. The ropes cut grooves
In the earth edges. While they were shovelling earth,
Mary Abbey, with a sudden abandoned gesture
Of the hand that had the handkerchief in it, ran up to Lance
On the scraped ground. ‘Don’t grieve so.’ She reached and
His hand on the spade-handle. ‘It makes me afraid for you.
We all loved him; life has to go on.’ He jerked his hand,
And looked down at her face with startled eyes
So pale gray-blue that all the light that remained in the world
Under the low black sky seemed to live in them,
Stammering, ‘No. No. He fell from the cliff.’ She said, ‘I know,
We have to bear it. I loved him too.’ He gathered his dreaming
Into the bundle again and said, ‘Oh. All right. Please keep out of
the way for the time.
We have this to do.’ ‘Good-bye,’ she answered patiently. ‘Fa-
ther’s calling me.’
The pit was filled full and mounded;
Fayne came and said, ‘What was she saying to you?’ ‘Nothing.
Who?’ ‘Mary Abbey.’ ‘I didn’t see her.’
‘What, Lance? She came and spoke to you.’ ‘I’d rather be there
with Michael,’ he answered. ‘Dear, you must rouse yourself.
Life has to go on.’ ‘Somebody was saying so, I think.
There’s not a hawk in the sky.’ She answered from a hoarse
throat, ‘After dark? What are you dreaming?
See, Davie’s turned on the headlights.’ ‘I hate them,’ he said,
‘killers, dirty chicken-thieves.’
The farm-truck headlights
Shone on the mounded earth, and cast its enormously lengthened
shadow and the shadows of a few moving
Persons across the world, with the beam of light, over mound
beyond mound of bare autumn hills, and black
Ocean under the black-roofed evening.
That night he returned
To lie with Fayne in their bed, but like two strangers
Lying in one bed in a crowded inn, who avoid
Touching each other; but the fifth night
She laid her hand on the smooth strength of his breast,
He pretended to be asleep, she moved against him,
Plucking his throat with her lips. He answered, ‘After all?
You’re right. If we’re to live in this life
We’ll keep its customs.’ He approached her confidently,
And had no power. The little irrational anger
At finding himself ridiculous brought to his mind
That worse rage, never before clearly remembered,
But now to the last moment; or imagined. He drew
His limbs from Payne’s without thinking of her, and lay still,
with shut fists,
Sweating, staring up spirals of awful darkness, that spun away up
and wound over his eyes
Around a hollow gray core with flecks in it. ‘I am damned un-
justly. I did it in a moment.’
But Fayne knew nothing
Of the shut agony beside her; only she was troubled at heart, and
Whether he had ceased to love her said tenderly, ‘Sleep,
Darling. I didn’t mean. I didn’t want.
Only I love you.’ He felt her instinctive hand
Move downward fondling along the flat of his belly.
He set it aside and spoke, so low that her ears
Lost every word between the hair and the pillow.
‘What, dearest?’ ‘I know it,’ he said, ‘they’re dogs: that was
Fit to tell dogs. I can be damned
At home as well.’ ‘Hush, dear.’ ‘I don’t make a good murderer,’
He said, ‘I sweat.’ She was silent and heard him breathing,
And mourned, ‘Oh, cover your mind with quietness to-night.
In the morning you’ll face it down again. This will get well with
It was really only a dreadful accident.’ ‘Very damnable,’ he said,
‘Very true.’ Fayne said, ‘We’ll live, sweetheart, to feel it
Only a dreadful accident, and the sad death
Of one we loved.’ ‘That’s your smooth skin.
The fires fester on mine. Will you do something
For me?’ ‘Dearest, with all my heart.’ ‘An easy kindness:
Shut up your mouth.’
He got up after a time;
When he went out she followed, trembling. He turned on her
Outside the door. ‘I’m not going to Salinas,’
He whispered, ‘nor bump myself off either.
I’ll not starve your hawks of their snatch o’ meat.
Now let me alone for Christ’s sake.’ She stood and saw him
Against the starlit window at the end steal down
The hallway, go past the stairhead, and enter the empty
Room of his brother. He slept there from that night on,
And seemed to regain calm strength.
In the course of a month
Rain seemed at hand, the south wind whetting his knife on the
long mountain and wild clouds flying;
Lance and his father set out to burn the hill to make pasture. They
carried fire in forkfuls of straw
Along the base of the south wall of their valley; the horses they
rode snorted against it, and smoke
Boiled, but the seaward end of the hill would only be burnt in
patches. Inland, at the parched end,
A reach of high grass and sage might have led out the fire to the
forest, and Lance rode up
To watch a flame down the wind to black out the danger.
He carried two barley-sacks and went to the Abbeys’ trough
At the hill spring to dip them, to beat down the fire’s
Creepings up wind. From that spur of the mountain
He saw the planted pine trees at Abbey’s place,
And riding back with the dipped sacks, the vale
Of his own place, the smoke-mist, and Sycamore Creek
Wound like a long serpent down the small fields.
He set his fires and watched them rage with the wind,
Easily stifling their returns, riding herd
On the black line; then from the base of the hill
Red surf, and the dark spray rolled back by the wind,
Of the other fire came up roaring. The lines met
On the fall of the hill like waves at a river’s mouth
That spout up and kill each other, and hang white spray
On cold clear wind.
A rabbit with blazing fur broke through the back-fire,
Bounding and falling, it passed by Lance and ran
Straight into the stem of a wild lilac bush,
He saw it was blind from the fire, and watching it struggle away
Up its dark pain, saw Mary Abbey coming down the black hill
against the white sky,
Treading on embers. Lance turned and hardened in the saddle,
and saw the vale below him a long trough of smoke
Spilled northward, then Mary came near and said, ‘I wanted to
talk to you. I saw you ride by the water-trough.’
He shuddered and said, ‘What? I’ll watch the fire.’ ‘Fayne
doesn’t like me so well I think
Since Michael . . . indeed I’m ashamed to be always around your
‘I noticed you there,’ he said, carefully regarding
The dark braids of her hair, and the pale brown face
Seen from above. ‘I don’t know,’ she said.
‘My father says to go away for a time,
His sister lives on a place in Idaho.
But I wouldn’t want to forget. But I told Fayne . . .
So I don’t know. We could see that you grieved for him
More deeply than anyone else, and all these great hills are empty.’
He said, ‘Is that all?’ ‘Ah . . . ? Yes,’ she answered,
And turned away and looked back. Lance found that the bridle-
Had broken suddenly between his hands, and said ‘You won’t get
anything from Fayne; she’s hard as iron.
Why do you follow us around? What do you think you’ll find
out?’ She said, ‘Your grief is greater perhaps,
For you knew him longer. But you have Fayne and I have no-
body: speak kindly to me. As I remember,
At first it came from seeing you and Fayne so happy in each
I wanted to be like that. I can’t talk well, like Fayne,
But I read a great deal.’ He stared at her face and began to knot
the bridle, his hands relaxing,
And said, ‘I must ride around by the oak-scrub and see that the
fire has checked. I’ve got to be watchful always.
Will you stay here?’ He went and returned and said, ‘Come
down to our place whenever you are lonely, Mary.
My mother’s quite well again. His death was … do people talk
much about it?’ She looked in wonder at his face,
And he with numbed lips: ‘What lies do they . . . can’t you
speak out?’ ‘I never
Talked about it with anyone, since Nina Dolman
Told us that day. Truly there’s nothing to be said by anyone
Except, he was bright with life and suddenly nothing, nothing,
Lance breathed and said sharply, ‘I wouldn’t bet on it
If I were you. Mary, you are tender and merciful:
Don’t come to the house; Fayne is like iron. You’d better
Run home and forget about us. Unless you should hear something
I ought to know.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Good-bye.’
She saw his bridle-hand lift, she said ‘I’ve no pride,
I pray you not to leave me yet, Lance.
I loved him greatly, and now that bond hangs cut,
Bleeding on the empty world, it reaches after
You that were near him, Fayne and you. I was always
Without companions, and now I’d give anything
To be in your friendship a little.’ ‘Anything?’ he said.
‘You faithful women.
Fayne was five days. Mmhm, I have seen a vision.
My eyes are opened I believe.’
He rode across the burnt hill,
Watching the wind swirl up the ashes and flatten
The spits of smoke. Past the singed oak-scrub he began to wonder,
If there was honey in the little tree, had . . . the dead
Tasted it before he died? ‘You’d better be off to Idaho.
… I shy from his name like a scared horse.
By God, I’d better get used to it; I’ve got to live with it.’
He looked sharply all about the burnt solitude
To be sure of no hearers, and recited aloud:
‘I killed Michael. My name is Lance Fraser.
I murdered my brother Michael. I was plastered,
But I caught ’em at it. I killed my brother Michael.
I’m not afraid to sleep in his room or even
Take over his girl if I choose. I am a dog,
But so are all.’
The tall man riding the little bay horse
Along the burnt ridge, talking loudly to nothing but the ash-
drifting wind; a shadow passed his right shoulder;
He turned on it with slitted eyes, and saw through the strained
lashes against the gray wind a ghastly old woman
Pursuing him, bent double with age and fury, her brown cloak
wild on the wind, but when she turned up the wind
It was only a redtail hawk that hunted
On the burnt borders, making her profit in the trouble of field-
mice. Lance groaned in his throat ‘Go up you devil.
Ask your high places whether they can save you next time.’
Leo Ramirez rode down on business
About redwood for fence-posts; he asked in vain
For Lance, and had to deal with old Eraser. When he went out
He saw red hair around the corner of the house
And found Fayne in the garden, and asked for Lance.
‘I couldn’t tell you. I saw him ride to the south.
He’ll be home soon for supper.’ Ramirez stood
In troubled silence, looking at the earth, and said
‘I wonder ought I to tell him . . .’ Payne’s body quivered
Ever so slightly, her face grew carefully blank.
‘What, Leo?’ ‘Will Howard, for instance. Mouths that can’t
Shut up for the love of God.’ ‘He drives the coast-stage,’
Fayne answered carefully. Ramirez looked over the creek
At the branded flanks of the south hill, and no rain had come
To streak them with gray relentings. ‘He didn’t see it,’
He said; ‘and those two janes on vacation
Went back to town the next day.’ He giggled, remembering
The sailing-ship stippled on the white skin,
And fixed his mind smooth again. Fayne said, ‘How dares he
Lie about us?’ Ramirez’s brown soft eyes
Regarded her with mournful wonder and slid away.
He said, ‘You was very quick-thinking.’ ‘What?’ she said, ‘You
And when I cried to him to be careful you looked
And saw him larking on the rock, and you saw him fall,
You could see very plainly in the awful moonlight.
These are things, Leo, that you could swear to.’ He nodded,
And slid his red tongue along his dry lips and answered,
‘Yes’m.’ ‘So Howard’s a liar,’ she said. ‘But don’t tell Lance;
He’d break him in two. We’ll all do very well,
All wicked stories will die, long long before
Our ache of loss.’ ‘Yes’m.’ She walked beside him
To his tethered horse, and charmed him with an impulsive hand-
After he was in the saddle.
She stood with her face high, the
great sponge of red hair
Lying like a helmet-plume on her shoulders, and thought she was
sure of conquering security but she was tired;
She was not afraid of the enemy world, but Michael would never
be here laughing again. On the hill,
In the hill he lay; it was stranger than that, and sharper. And his
Ought to be hated a little in the much love. The smells in the
wind were of ocean, the reedy creek-mouth,
Cows, and wood-smoke, and chile-con-carne on the kitchen stove;
it was harder to analyze thoughts in the mind.
She looked at the dear house and its gables
Darkening so low against the hill and wide sky and the evening
color commencing; it was Lance’s nest
Where he was born, and his great white body grew high and
beautiful. Old Davie shuffled up from the calf-pens
Into the house; then far and high, like a tiny horn on the hill
against the green-saffron heaven
Lance grew into sight, the man and the horse and the evening
peace. He was well again; he was sometimes cheerful
Since the early plowing; his muscles needed strong labor. He was
like this mountain coast,
All beautiful, with chances of brutal violence; precipitous, dark-
natured, beautiful; without humor, without ever
A glimmer of gayety; blind gray headland and arid mountain,
and trailing from his shoulders the infinite ocean.
So love, that hunts always outside the human for his choice of
Pictured her man on her mind. He dropped from sight
In the hill thickets. She thought, ‘That’s the direction
From the Abbeys’ or farther south. Mary Abbey’s
Quit haunting our house.’ The sky grew ever more luminous
The hills more solid purple. At the valley sea-mouth pale rose
layered over amber, and over the rose
Pale violet, high over the lifted hawk-wings of divided hills, to
one fine twist of flamingo-feather
Cloud flying in the wind and arch of the world.
A bat flitted up
the still glimmer.
Fayne went up the drive and opened the gate
For Lance coming across the fields. He looked
As if he had fought, a victory; Fayne was silent;
He nodded, and said, ‘I’ve got it over with. You were right.’
She saw a thin drift of blood on the bay’s foreleg;
A big brown bird hung from the saddle-thongs,
The half-spread sail of one wing clasped Lance’s knee;
He had his rifle. ‘Another hawk, Lance?’ ‘Fve been there,’*
He answered. ‘Oh, this? I pick ’em off when I see ’em.
I’ve been back to that place.’ ‘What place, dear?’ ‘The . . .
Slaughter-house. Under the cliff. Ah: I looked around there.
And rubbed that . . . time into my eyes
Until it formed. Now I guess it won’t mix
With every mouthful of air; I can call it to memory
Or shut it up.’ Fayne looked at his drawn face.
But she thought he seemed a degree restored
To natural goodness again, for he dismounted
And walked beside her. She smelled the prickly sweet fragrance
Of whiskey, and said: ‘That nasty old man was there.
Lance: you were careful with him?’ ‘Care?’ he said, ‘Hell.
We talked about fish. … I heard once about a fellow in jail
Kept banging his head on the wall until he died:
I’d liefer have done that than killed my brother.
I often . . . miss him.’ He stopped to tie up the hawk’s feet
To the top wire of the fence; thence they went on
At supper he said suddenly across the table,
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? When Mikey and I
were little you used to have prayers in the evenings
And flogged us the times we snickered: why did you quit?’ Old
Fraser fixed his narrow-set apelike eyes
On Lance’s face; they seemed to become one thrusting darkness,
but he said nothing. After a time
Lance said, ‘But why did you quit?’ ‘Because I grew old and
powerless,’ the old man answered. Lance: ‘What was that
You used to read about two sparrows for a farthing?’ ‘The Book
is there.’ He nodded toward the other room.
‘Look it out for yourself.’ When they stood up from table Lance
said, ‘I wish you would read it for us,
About the sparrows.’ ‘I will not,’ he said, ‘read for your mock-
ery. I am utterly left alone on earth;
And God will not rise up in my time.’ But Lance: ‘Doesn’t it say
No sparrow can fall down without God?’ Fayne said, ‘Oh,
Lance: come on.’
‘No, no; I want him to read and pray.
What does that mean, fall to earth without God?
Does it mean that God fells it? Fayne and I
Know better than that: ah, Fayne? We know, ah?
But God connives.
Do read about the two sparrows.’ His roving glance
Came on his mother’s blanched and full-moon face,
The pouched watery blue eyes, and the mouth always
Thirsting for breath. ‘No, no, I’ll keep still, mother.
I didn’t want to tease him, I was in earnest
To have prayers again.’
But he remained in the room
Until his mother had gone up to bed, then instantly
Said, ‘Listen, dad. Be a good sport.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?’ Fayne had watched
Sitting stone-still, only twitching his hands,
His face hollow in the lamp-shadow: she went quickly
And touched his shoulder; she smoothed her hand on his throat,
Saying, ‘Please, Lance, no more of that. Why will you do it?’
‘Sh,’ he said, ‘I have him by a raw spot: keep out.
He spooned the gospel down my throat when I was a cub:
Why’s he so tight wi’ that farthing? Once, dad, you whipped
For spelling the name of God backward
Until the red crucifixion ran down his legs.
Do you remember the brave little brown legs
All smeared and welted?’ The old man eyed him and said,
‘You lie. He had a thorn-scratch that opened.’ ‘Booh,’ Lance
‘I won’t quarrel with you. I want the truth:
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?’ Old Fraser
Groaned, and the straight edge of the lamp-shade shadow
That crossed his broad face obliquely over the burning
Blackness of the eyes, but left the stiff mouth and jaw
In the yellow light, shook with his passion. He said, ‘My Master
Was mocked cruelly by those he loved, desiring to save them.
You have a strong body, and if I struck you
You’d take me by the wrists like a little child. I am in my house
and I have no one to help me.
I am old and worn out; my strength is gone and white hair has
come, but honor has not come. I say that God
Is not mocked; but a feeble ailing old man, who loved his boys
too indulgently and has seen the blithe hands
Reach out for damnation, and the happy feet … Oh …
Is rightly mocked. Oh Lance, over Michael’s death.’ Lance, pale
and mumbling: ‘We all have troubles, old man;
Yours have come late. Well. Are not two sparrows , . , n Faync
cried, ‘Lance, Lance, for pity
Hush, whatever he did to you when you were little.
He earns peace now.’ ‘Mm,’ he said, ‘where’s that? IVe
Been trying to get him to call me about those sparrows:
The old man won’t play: we’ve an ace in the hole too.
Here it is for nothing, old man:
I rode by the Abbeys’ line-fence along the steep
Over Wreck Beach, and there’s a young deer, a spike-buck,
Hanging dead on the wire, made a bad jump
From the low side. The barbs caught him by the loins,
Across the belly at the spring of the haunches, the top wire.
So there he hangs with his head down, the fore-hooves
Reaching the ground: they dug two trenches in it
Under his suspended nose. That’s when he dragged at the barbs
Caught in his belly, his hind legs hacking the air.
No doubt he lived for a week: nothing has touched him: a young
A week of torture. What was that for, ah?
D’you think God couldn’t see him? The place is very naked and
open, and the sea glittering below;
He hangs like a sign on the earth’s forehead, y’ could see him from
China. . . . But keep the wind side.
For a loving God, a stinking monument.’ ‘Bosh,’ the old man
And stood up, and puckering a miminy mouth: ‘Your litde buck!
There is not one soul in hell but would take his place on the wire
Shouting for joy . . . and few men past fifty.’ Lance also,
Made surly by the slow death of whiskey in his blood,
Stood up: ‘Your merciful God, that made you whip little boys.
But done licking those feet.’ He bulked in the old man’s way to
the door, towering in the shadow, and forced him
Toward the near corner. Fayne ran between them. ‘Tell me the
truth,’ Lance said, ‘do you believe in your God?’
Old Fraser, who had stood glaring like a bayed cat, suddenly
dwindled; and felt outside the walled cube
Of lamplight, under gray stars no Scottish nor Palestinian uplands
but the godless hills of America
Like vacant-eyed bison lying toward the sea, waiting for rain.
He moved his lips without breath, he struck
His throat and said feebly: ‘I am choked and dried up with the
I have prayed a great deal in vain, and seen the whole earth
Shed faith like leaves;
And the faces of sin round as the sun and morality
Sneered to death. I cannot
Live unless I believe. … I cannot live’;
And stood all shrunken. Lance, awed: ‘My God, who’d ever ‘a’
He could be plagued into honesty?’ The old man
Cried fiercely: ‘I believe. Ah: tell your people to be careful
Of the God they have backed into a snarling corner,
And laugh off like a dirty story.’ ‘That’s it,’ Lance answered.
‘Dogs. We all are.’ He stood backward, the old man
Passed slowly, staring, saying, ‘Make yourself ready if you can.
For I see you are changed.’
Fayne shuddered and said,
‘What does he mean?’ ‘He? Nothing. He means two sparrows
For a farthing.’ She said, ‘Lance . . . Lance?’
He moved to leave her; she breathed and said, ‘Can you hear?
We were doing, what you thought. It seemed . . . usual
That night: both drunk: he was going away … So what you
Was justice.’ ‘Agh,’ he said, ‘nudge me wi’ that, still?
I know it perfectly. What does it matter, what farthing
Sold them?’ Fayne, sobbing: ‘Oh, then, we did not. It is not true.
I lied.’ ‘It would not be possible to tell you,’ he said,
‘How little I care.’ She, with both hands at her white throat, but
lifting her face:
‘Yes. I can bear that. We’ve sailed I think away past the narrows
of common faithfulness. Then care for this:
To be able to live, in spite of pain and that horror and the dear
blood on your hands, and your father’s God,
To be able to go on in pure silence
In your own power, not panting for people’s judgment, nor the
pitiful consolation of punishing yourself
Because an old man filled you with dreams of sin
When you were little: you are not one of the sparrows, you are
not a flock-bird: but alone in your nature,
Separate as a gray hawk.’ ‘The very thing I was thinking,’ he
‘If you’d take your red hair and spindly face
Out of my lamplight I’d be alone: it’s like a burst blood-vessel
In the eye of thought.’
Old Mrs. Fraser
Caught cold and remained in bed, the bronchial pain
Frightened her heart with memories of worse anguish.
Fayne went back and forth from the stove to the bed
Heating flannels, to lay them on the white upland
Between the blond mountains of falling flesh
That had fed Lance. Going by the curtainless window
She looked whether she could see him, across the fields
Or up the burnt hill. Not Lance, but a smaller figure
Was coming down the black hill under white clouds:
Mary Abbey: her father had horses enough,
Was she walking down here?
Wished for that wintergreen oil again; Fayne rubbed it
On the white plain and the roots of the great soft udders.
She could feel in her finger-tips the suck and rattle
Of phlegm in the breathing-tubes, the old woman coughing
And saying ‘I see there was four sheets in the wash again
From you and Lance; well, dearie, don’t fret.
He’s just his father all over, crazy as hawks.
They get to thinking Antichrist and the Jews and the wicked
Pope in Rome
And scunner at every arrangement for human comfort.
Then they come home like hungry sailors from sea.
You’re all worn out in the morning; my feet are cold.’
She coughed and panted; Fayne rubbed the oil. The old woman
‘My feet are cold.’ Fayne answered sadly ‘I’ll rub them.’
‘No, if you’d get me an iron; a fine hot flat-iron
Done up in cloth is a great comfort in bed.
Right often it’s been a husband to me when my old man
Was prophesying around and a fresh cow
Cried all the night.’
Fayne went downstairs for the iron
And heard a wonderful sound behind the house; she heard Lance
She looked from the door and saw old Davie by the limewashed
hen-house, leaning both hands on a long shovel,
Gaze at the ground; Lance crouched near by, with blood on his
hands and something between his knees, red feathers,
That fiery old half-bred game-cock, that sent the dogs
Yelping for mercy. A little Cooper’s-hawk was tethered in front
of Lance to a driven peg,
One wing bloodily trailing; Lance pushed the game-cock to-
ward it and the hawk fell, tripped by its wing,
But crutched itself on the other and came up again,
Erect and watchful, holding the earth with its yellow feet.
Lance pushed and freed the game-cock, that eagerly
Staring-hackled in his battle-passion
Leaped up and struck down; the hawk tripped by its wing
Fell quivering under the spurs, but a long-fingered
Lean yellow hand reaching up out of ruin
Plucked at the red king’s breast: who charged again: one hawk-
Waved, and the talons mysteriously accomplished
Many quick bitter acts, whence the red king
Reeled out of hope. He crouched beyond tether’s reach,
Propping himself on both wings, but the sinking head
Still stretched for fight; then dull-eyed, at strength’s end,
Went staggering to it again. The yellow hands
Easily made him what would never any more
Chirp over bright corn to the hens or subdue a rival.
Lance came, and the little hawk ran quickly and fell
Onto its broken shoulder at the tether’s end. Lance picked up
the dying game-cock;
Red grains of wheat from the torn crop fell down with the
blood. Fayne watched from the open door; she saw him
Turn at the click of a gate, and Mary Abbey came up from the
creek-bed path. At sight of Lance
She stopped; her hands went up to her throat. He, frowning:
‘What do you want . . . Mary?’ She lowered her hands
And stepping backward almost inaudibly said, ‘I …
Came the back way. I … came to see Fayne.’ She had hurried
and was breathing hard. Lance stared at her,
And said ‘Go on in, confess your sins.’ He turned with his
shoulder toward her; the bleeding bird in his hands
Stretched itself, thrusting back with the spurs as if it were killing
its last rival, and suddenly died,
With a bright bubble of blood in the gaping beak. Old Davie
laughed, but not Lance; the little hawk
Stood up and watched all with intent eyes. Mary stayed wringing
her hands and Fayne came from the door,
Then Mary, half running toward her: ‘I hardly bear to see
blood: let me go in.’ Fayne said to Lance:
‘It won.’ ‘It will lose,’ he said in his throat, ‘when my heel is
on it.’ She, gravely: ‘It fought well, Lance.
Have you hurt your hands?’ ‘Ugh,’ he said, ‘nothing: the ver-
min.’ He moved toward the little captive, that looked up at
With cold intentness; the blood had started again from its broken
shoulder and striped the dead wing. Mary Abbey,
Shrilly, whipping the air with her hands: ‘Let me go!’ Lance
raised his foot to tread, but the victim’s intent
Concentration of binocular eyes looked human; Mary cried
shrilly: ‘They told me, my father said . . .
And Nina told me … Oh Fayne!’ Lance, suddenly rigid:
‘What’s that?’ Fayne answered steadily and said, ‘Its life
Is little value to it with a broken wing. Come into the house.’
She answered ‘I am afraid.’
But approached the door, whispering ‘What kind of a house,
with blood sprinkled
Where you enter the door: what have you done?
His hands are red.’ Lance turned from the hawk and said with
his teeth showing, ‘Tell your father
That I may soon be with this,’ he toed the dead cock, ‘our
second-sighted old Scotchman has got a hunch,
But not with that, not caught alive.’ She fled from him
To the open door. Fayne, jerking her face but not
Her shoulders toward him, said low: ‘You speak of things
Less real than nothing. It is not courage to make
Danger where there is none.’ She followed Mary Abbey
Into the door, saying: ‘Lance is not well. He loved his brother
Most deeply, and having heard of venomous talk
Makes the wound burn. Have you too been listening
To our enemies?’ Mary, trembling in the house twilight:
‘I know you couldn’t speak calmly, if, if … Oh Fayne.
But every person . . . What have I done?’ ‘Will you hush,’
‘Mrs, Gomez is probably not interested
In your girl dreams.’ Then Mary was silent, seeing
The dark ruler of the kitchen. Fayne took the iron,
And said on the stair, ‘I have to attend to Lance’s mother:
You’d better stay with me. Then we’ll walk.’ At the room door:
‘Mary Abbey is here, Mother.’
At the air of the room, the stove-heat and stale hangings in
Of wintergreen and eucalyptus. She stood close to the door,
And felt the weary mill turn in her mind,
Unable to think of any definite thing, painfully grinding, turning.
Old Mrs. Fraser
Sniffed and said, ‘I can smell scorching cloth,
Did you try it with a wet finger? It ought to sizz
But if it whistles it will burn the sheets; Mary, are you sick?
You look all blue by the mouth,’ she wagged her head in the
pillow, ‘watch your heart.’ Fayne, kneeling
To slip the iron under the covers of the bed, tossed back her
bright hair and said, ‘She’s all right, Mother.
Lance was having a kind of cock-fight in the back yard, that
struck her pale: she’s one of those delicate
Natures that die at seeing blood.’
The weary mill of the mind
struck a hard kernel and seemed to fall
Down hollow waters; Mary leaned on the door-frame, clenching
her fists not to go down with it, biting
Her white lip, the circle of sight contracted until only the blood-
splatch of Fayne’s hair was visible
At the hub of the whirlpool. She slid with her back to the steep
door-frame and did not fall; Fayne helped her
To escape the room, the old woman far off proclaiming ‘It is her
Mary leaned on the newel
Of the stairhead to find her strength to go down, and said,
‘I am so caught. And someone has daubed every
Beam of your house with it. All women have to bear blood
But mine has stopped. Please go first, Fayne,
For you don’t hate me yet; now I can’t bear
To meet . . . anyone.’ Fayne slowly said, ‘It was Michael?’
‘I am in terror,’ she answered, ‘of every living thing,
And him, and you.’ Payne’s triangular face,
The high cheek-bones and narrow jaw, thrust in the twilight
Opposite the other’s white oval, as a small perching hawk
Thrusts with her head, forcing the shapes of things
To grow alive in the motion of the eyes
And yield up their hunted secrets: Fayne peered at her,
Trembling, and said, ‘Then follow.’
They went out the front
No one was seen; Fayne said: ‘It is horrible to be nearing New
And still the dust and the sun, as if it could never rain. Would
you like to be nurse to that old woman?
She’s Lance’s mother.’ Mary said faintly, stumbling on the plain
path, ‘I have no mother: and the raging
Blue of your eyes hates me.’ ‘What you have heard,’ Fayne said,
‘is only the common lies of the shoie.
It’s natural for people to furnish a house with lies if it meets
misfortune. When a man loses his property
He’s called fool, or thief; when they see you crushed
By the sudden death of someone you love they begin to hint
murder; it’s human nature. If you’re weak enough,
Believe them; it won’t hurt us. But what are you here for?’ She
answered, leaning her hand on the post of the little gate
To steady her body: ‘I am not strong like you. I am in danger
of killing myself, if …
Or if I believe them.’ ‘Better than you,’ Fayne said, ‘have died.
Come on.’ A little way past the gate,
Mary said, ‘What is it? You too are trembling!’ She answered,
trembling, ‘Oh no: my life is easy. Dear,
We’re friends, we mustn’t make mysteries; tell me, won’t you,
what’s all this web of trouble
You stare so white through? You can count on my loving friend-
ship, and my
Forgiveness, if for any reason . . . My worst enemy
Will call me warm-hearted; and if I once had the name
Of being a jealous woman in my love for Lance:
Well,’ she said with a calm voice, her face twisting
Like a small white flame specked with flying ashes,
‘That wears, it softens. And he … grows morose and strange,
Is not perfectly a splendor in my eyes any more.
I will confess that I cannot feel so warmly about him
As once I did. . , . Here above the beehives, Mary,
Nobody ever conies, and you could tell me
Everything safely; and if any advice of mine
Could help, though I am not wise.’
They stood silently,
Turning their faces away from each other,
In a wind acrid with stale honey and the life of bees.
Mary Abbey shuddered and said, ‘I came here
To tell you. Oh, Oh. I used to seem to myself
Locked in, cold and unwishing; but . . . Michael’s . . . love
Made April in me, and the sudden emptiness of death
Tore … I was much changed: you remember
How I clung to you in the desert of the days afterwards,
And tired you into dislike, until you turned
Hard eyes toward me. The first time I saw Lance alone
He was riding in fire and ashes; he was more unkind
Than you ever were.’ Fayne tasted
The crack in her bitten lip, and shut her eyes and said softly,
‘Go on, sweetheart’; but the dark-haired one
Only wept, and Fayne said, ‘You’ve told me nothing,
Sweetheart.’ She answered, ‘Are you still really my friend?
Don’t look at me,’ and turned her face from Fayne,
Saying, ‘I was so aching lonely. I only wanted
To be friends with someone: he really … he took me roughly
On the great lonely hill; it hurt, does it hurt at first
If you are loved?’ Fayne had stopped trembling and stood
With bones and teeth showing through the skin of her face,
And trying to speak moaned slightly, and avoided
The little blind hand feeling for hers. ‘But still I
Strain and ache to be near him.’ Fayne took the hand,
And with her unfleshed mouth kissed Mary’s hair,
And tried to speak, and with painful care: ‘Go … on …
Sweetheart?’ ‘Then they told me that he killed Michael.
That was not true. Oh yes, I know, but I thought
If I loved where I ought to hate I would kill myself.
I have always been as regular as the new moon,
And this time, twelve days have passed. When I was troubling
About that, that was when they told me. I thought
About a coyote that was caught near our house
In two steel traps at once, so that it couldn’t
Stand nor lie down.’ Fayne touched her teeth with her tongue
Until the stretched white lips came slowly to cover them,
And said, ‘Do you mean?’ She answered, ‘I am so caught.
I know, I have a book about it. So I came here.
Your dooryard was full of blood.’ Fayne said, ‘Maybe you are.
He’s travelled away past caring, and would let
Nature fly. I’d naturally . . .
I have to control my starts, because Lance,
Who’s worth ten thousand of you, hangs on the scale.
D’ y’ love him, sweetheart?’ She turned her face toward her,
Saying, ‘Yes.’ Fayne mumbled and said, ‘I’d naturally . . .
It’s babies like you . . . Listen to me.
I took Lance in my hand in that bad night
To fling at the world. We do not have to let the dogs judge for
us. I told him that we are our own people
And can live by ourselves: if we could endure the pain of being
lonely. Do you think you with Lance
Could strangle time? I am holding the made world by the throat
Until I can make it change, and open the knot that past time
tied. To undo past time, and mend
The finished world: while you were busy teething your young
virginity. I have to control myself.
Last year I’d ‘a’ let
Nature fly; changed your baby face wi’ my hands,
Sweetheart: but I cannot risk: life has changed.’ ‘Oh Fayne! why
did you say . . .’ ‘I’m not a tame animal,’
She answered, ‘the wild ones are not promiscuous. What would
you do,’ her voice thinning to a wire, ‘if . . . Lance . . .
If it proved true, that you’d given your little dry heart and care-
And anxious little savings of honor
For a prize to your lover’s murderer: could you walk, eat, sleep,
While you knew that?’ She said, ‘It is true then.
I had made up my mind: indeed I long for it.
Sleep: Oh, you’ll see.’ Fayne drew in breath like one
Drinking in a desert passion, and said, ‘You’ve not
Enough courage.’ ‘Not for anything else,’ Mary answered;
‘But that’; and began to go back down the dry hill.
Fayne followed, with eyes like the blue flame of sulphur
Under the fever of her hair, and lips reddening.
The moment of joy withered out of her face.
‘I am fighting the whole people, do you think I’ll risk:
For the pleasure of a small soft fool’s removal,
Who’d weep it out to her father or leave a letter. . . . Oh, you:
it’s not true.
Lance is no murderer, you’re innocent as far as that.
I saw with my eyes your unmourned lover
Clambering up the ledges in his happy drunkenness,
All alone, and the shale broke in his hands;
I saw him pitching down the white moonlight,
And heard the noise like a melon of his head on rock
In the clatter of the falling pebbles. Lance came up the sand
After I screamed.’ Mary Abbey stood swaying and said,
‘If you knew my heart you’d pity me.’ Fayne, amazed: ‘Pity
For having had Lance?’ and said hoarsely, ‘When did you tell
That you think you are pregnant?’ ‘Oh, Oh,’ she stammered,
‘Never. You hate me.’ ‘You’re good at guessing,’ Fayne said.
‘What do you want here, money to bribe a doctor?
We have no money here. Yet it seems I must help you,
Or worse will come. I know a woman in the city . . .
When you start east . . . But you must promise never to come
Into the drawing net of our lives.’
When Mary had gone,
Fayne went where Lance had been; but only the little hawk
Stood in the dust, hopeless and watchful, with its own misery
And a shadow of its own, between the privy and the hen-house
and the back door. Fayne thought: would Lance
Be harmed if she should give it the gift? and fetched the axe
from the wood-block, but forgot to be merciful
And went upstairs. She washed herself, brushed her bright fleece,
and came down.
She found Lance at the fence-corner
Where the north pasture comes down to drink. He had looped
his belt around the neck of a yearling colt
That had a head like a barrel; the little body and long knotted
legs of nature, but the head enormous,
Like a barrel-headed beast in a dream. ‘Oh Lance, what ails it?’
He stared at her
And answered, faintly smiling, ‘I guess a little
Message from someone.’ ‘What?’ she said. ‘Nothing. We don’t
In the middle of winter.’ ‘Is it a rattlesnake bite?’
‘They sleep in the rocks and holes, twisted in bunches,
They won’t strike if you dig them up: but here
On his lip are the pricks.’ He unhaltered
The shuddering colt. ‘Stumble away, poor thing.
That was a mean trick, to sung the innocent.’
Fayne said, ‘Was it a rattlesnake bite?’ ‘Mm: but
What sent it up?’ ‘This weather,’ she said, ‘the vicious sun.’
‘Fine hawk’s-weather, ah? Did Mary what’s-her-name
Tell you her young sins?’ Fayne quivered, closing her eyes,
And answered at length, ‘She’s sick.’ ‘So are we all.’
‘/ am not. . . . Lance, you are generous: if you found a stranger
Starving, and gave her . . . him milk and bread, and came
Home, and you found someone of yours starving;
Your father, whom you don’t love, but you have to owe him
A kind of duty . . .’ ‘Why didn’t you say brother?’
She fixed her eyes on his face and sighed and said, ‘I am speaking
Of the living.
. . . And he begged you for the mouthed cup, and what was left
Of the broken loaf?’ He made a sound of impatience
And turned, but Fayne took his hand, still marked by pressure
Of the strap that had held the struggling colt: ‘Would you let
‘No. What about it?’ ‘That . . . stranger . . . you fed seems
to be sorry about it. I suppose she was starving.
I have some angry rinsings of pride in me
Make begging bitter.’ ‘Thafs it,’ he said. ‘I could ‘a’ laughed
In the days before I was damned. I’m learning. The mares have
their seasons but women always.’ ‘I will bear anything,’
She answered sighing, her narrow white face opaque with toler-
ance. ‘I was not always perfectly patient.
If you were safe I’d have twisted a knife in her fluty throat. My
knife is patience.’ ‘I know the very
Place,’ he said. ‘Come on, Til answer his note. The very place.’
They went up by the dry
Gully through the starved and naked pasture; the autumn hunger
of horses and the patient hooves had left
Hardly roots of the grass, and the yellow dust was reddened with
sundown. They saw lean horses drift off
Along the ridges on the darkening sky, and far on the last knoll
Three slabs of redwood standing like erect stones, quite black
against the red streak and slate-color cloud,
Lonely and strange. Fayne, breathless with labor up the long
slopes, cried hoarsely, ‘Where are you going? Oh Lance,
Not there?’ ‘There,’ he said. ‘No. I won’t. No.
What agony in you . . . not here.’ ‘On his earth,’ he answered.
‘It would make us despise ourselves. Oh, do not hate him.
He did no wrong, he was happy and laughing-natured, and dear
to us all.’ ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘or go home.
Choose.’ She went slowly away down the hill, and returned and
said, ‘I love you and I want . . . not what you think,
But near enough. And the dead know nothing.’ ‘I wouldn’t bet
on it,’ he said; ‘the drunk did.’ ‘You are wildly wrong,’
She answered, ‘Oh, horribly,’ and embracing him strained up
to his throat
Her whitened lips.
She felt the bare crumbled earth,
The dark home of the dead and serpents,
Under her back, and gave herself eagerly,
Desiring that gift that Mary meant to destroy,
And herself had never wanted before, but now
To accept what her rival dared not keep,
Take and be faithful where the other fled, had some bitter value;
And faith and the world were shaken; Lance might be lost,
The past might prove unconquerable: no, she could save him:
She’d bind the future.
This time Lance did not fail.
She feared his caution and schemed against it, quite needlessly,
For he had wandered beyond prudent thoughts;
But when they were going away in the twilight, ‘Ah vile.
Vile,’ he said, ‘your hawks have worse poison in their hook beaks
Than any ground-nest of rattlers.’ She answered, ‘I am not to
What my hope is.’ ‘On top of his bones, dogs in a boneyard.’
She answered languidly and bitterly, ‘I ought to have let you
Go to Salinas. I did not know that your mind . . .
I would have waited for you all the long years.
I did not know that your mind needed men’s judgment
And the helpless appraisals of the world to help you. You stood
Separate, clear, free in my eyes: and I did violence to you
When I kept you.’ She felt a trembling about him
And saw that he did not hear but was watching shadows
Fleet in the air: ‘Sea gulls. They are gulls, Lance. Look how
The long sharp silent wings in the fading light
On the bare hill.’ ‘He took it very quietly,’ he answered;
‘We are all dogs, every one.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘the world’s full
Of evil and foolishness but it is terribly beautiful.
If you could see that, Lance.’ ‘What? By God they won’t, not
But then comes hell.’ ‘I pray you, I pray you, dear,
Not to begin to think strangely: that’s for your father, who often
Walks his road all staring between hedges
Of Christs and Satans: but you will rub your mind quiet
Like the face of a crystal; there is enough to see
In the dark lovely shoulders of hills, the cows and horses, the
old gray rocks and the folk around us,
Without tapping strange dreams. . . * Oh, we’ll live well.’
The rain held off; for two hundred and forty days there had been
But one sun-drunken shower. The creek was dry rock and weary
gray roots; the skin of the mountain crumbled
Under starved feet; the five carcasses of hawks that Lance had
hung on the fence-wire dried without odor
In the north wind and rages of the sun.
Old Fraser walked under
the moon along the farm-drive beside them,
Saying, ‘Lord if thou art minded to burn the whole earth
And spat off the dust from thy hands, it is well done,
The glory and the vengeance: but if anywhere
Rain falls on hills, remember I beseech thee thy servant’s placer
Or the beasts die in the field.’ While he was praying
The moon was dimmed; he felt a flutelike exultance
Flow up from the V of his ribs to his wrinkled throat:
He was not abandoned: and looked aloft and saw
A little many-colored man’s-palm-size cloud
Coasting the moon from the southeast, the storm-side.
The old man exalted himself; he had power upon God; and
Repressing his joy for fear it waste the event
Beforehand, compelled his heart to remember bitterness,
His two sons lost, one dead, the other in rebellion,
And poverty and scorn and the starved cattle. ‘Oh Lord God,
As in old time thou didst choose one little people for thine out
of all the earth,
So now thou hast chosen one man, one old man, foolish and poor:
but if thy will was made up
To punish the earth, then heed not my voice but arise and punish.
It is rank with defilement and infidelity
And the music of the evil churches.’ He saw a shining white
form at the garden-gate, and for a high moment
Believed that some angel, as unto Abraham … It was Lance,
Perfectly naked, and Fayne his wife behind him
Walking in her white nightdress, who spoke pleadingly,
But Lance went on. He came with stiff hesitance,
And seemed not to look down at the latch but opened the gate.
The old man watched and waited in the tool-house shadow.
Lance passed the gate and stood in the open dust
Like a blind marble pillar-stone, the icy moonlight
Washing his body, pouring great shadows
Of the heavily moulded muscles on the hairless breast,
And the ripple of strength on the smooth belly; he stood
And babbled and called: ‘Mikey. Oh Mikey. Come home.
I’ll be it to-morrow again. It’s getting too dark to play,
Don’t hide any more, buddy, for the owls are out.
If you’ll come in I’ll let you have my cornelian,
And the heron’s eggs that I found.’ Fayne took his hand,
‘Lance, Lance, wake up,’ and stroked the smooth power of
Her face caressing his shoulder. He said, ‘Hurry, they’re blam-
They think you’re lost.’ Fayne said, ‘I can’t bear it, Lance.
Mikey’s in the house. He’s come in already.’ The old man
Came forward out of the shadow; Fayne heard and stared at him.
Lance said, ‘Damned liar. Ma’s not . . . mare.
People ain’t made like . . . dirty . . .’ and babbled words
That could not be understood. Fayne said, ‘Sleep-walking.
Did he ever before . . . what can I do?’ Lance moaned,
She reached her arm around him and stroked his face
With the other hand; the old man saw her hair
Against the wide white breast like a burst of blood
Deep in the moonlight, then Lance flung her aside
As white foam flies from the oar, saying still in the dream-drunken
Sing-song, ‘Oh no you don’t: this is not dog’s meat.
Or you’ll have to kill it before you paw it.
The angels wi’ the hooky beaks . . . What in hell,’ he said
Sharply, ‘who’s there?’ ‘I, Lance. Oh come to bed, dear.
You wandered out in your sleep.’ ‘No: that spying devil,’
He said, ‘Hm?’ ‘Your father, your father, Lance.
He was here when you came.’ ‘Oh. . . . Did I talk?’
‘Hardly a word. Nothing, dear.’ ‘I sleep better
Alone,’ he said, ‘now.’
The old man looked up at cloud-flecks
Like algae breeding on clear deep well-water around the moon,
And looked at Lance, and returned up the drive. Lance said,
‘Do you wear white? Hitch it up on your breast,
The teat is bare. Why did he turn away without speaking?’ ‘He
saw you’d wakened.’ ‘Black will look fine,’
He answered, ‘wi* the fiery hair. I want you to marry again,
you’ll have chances.’
The sky in the morning
Was layered with cloud, and it drove from the southeast; the
old man kept working his mouth in silent thanksgiving
For answered prayer; and the wind came down from heaven and
smoked in the fields. The sky cleared for a time,
But that was natural; the wind increased. It ran quartering the
little valley; ashes from the hill
And mountain dust entered all cracks of the house. It raged on
the salt pool at the creek sea-mouth
By the caverned crag that storms have worn spongelike; it reaped
the heads of the waves on the wide sea, and lay
Like a quivering steel blade on the necks of the herbless moun-
Far away northward in San Francisco
It blew the filth of the street into the faces
That walked there; one was Mary Abbey’s little pale oval
Lost among thousands. She moved unevenly, fast and lagging,
And looked with terrified eyes at the gilt street-number
Scribed on a window; beyond a mean plush-curtained restaurant
The number stood over a door. She stood choking,
And read on a brass plate in the doorway: ‘Dr. Eisendraht,
Eye, ear, nose, throat’; a wind-scoop of sudden dust
Blurred the letters and filled her eyes. She went on
With faint small steps, and at the street-corner
Tried to stand still, and was jostled. Not wearing gloves
She spurred blood from the back of her left hand
With the nails of her right: the pain helped her go back
And enter the door and find the stairway. She had to sit long,
Waiting her turn; she was served impersonally
And dismissed, fainting or able, to the desert wind
And dust and multitude down the mean street.
At Sycamore Creek
Lance’s mother was wiping the table oil-cloth
For the noon meal, the film of the wind’s dust, and suddenly
Fell into a chair; Mrs. Gomez came in with knives and forks on
the plates and found her, and Fayne
Came at the cry; they couldn’t take her upstairs until Lance came
in. They helped her slip to the floor,
And brought a pillow, then Lance came in. Fayne said, ‘She is
weak but better, the pain is passing.’ The old woman
Mountainous laid on the floor wished to lie still for a time. Lance
knelt by her side. ‘All right, Mother.
As long as you like. Fayne,’ he said gravely,
‘Will you come to the door a minute?’ Fayne went, and outside
the door said, ‘What do you want, Lance? You scare her
Wi’ that secret look.’ ‘I was not afraid to go in after him, I want
you to see him. The question is
Whether my eyes have begun to sing lies to me.
He came from the orchard walk and went in the shed.
I know you have courage. A frightful branding. Oh,’ he sighed,
‘That’s the point.’ She looked at his face and followed him,
And reeled in the dry fierce wind in front of the house;
But he leaning his back on the stiff wind,
So that his shirt moulded the groove between
The great bands of lean power from the shoulders: ‘Well. Do
you see him?
In the shed door.’ ‘No.’ ‘It was closed, he opened it.
You can see that it’s open? Now I’ll catch him.
Come.’ He ran suddenly and leaped the garden gate.
But Fayne must stop to unlatch it, and when she came
Lance had gone into the shed and around the motor-truck
That stood within. Fayne said, ‘Wind broke the peg
That held the clasp of the door: see, here’s one piece.
That’s why it’s open.’ She heard the roof straining
Over the imprisoned storm. Lance said, ‘Did he pass you?
Ah?’ She answered, ‘We must go away from this place.
For you, it’s haunted. Your mother, whom I think you love, is
Lying low between life and death, and you leave her
To chase the wind, and the foxes of your eyes. Do you love
Or hate him?’ He answered, ‘The fire’s burnt through his cheek,
His back teeth grinned at me through the horrible scar.
I’ll be there soon.’ ‘What fire? . . . Are you dreaming punish-
Oh, that’s the vainest craziest falsehood of all.
Leave that to your poor old father.’ ‘We go down
Into blackness,’ he stiffly answered,
‘And neither you nor I nor the old man
Knows what happens there. This was Michael: if I should dream
I’d dream the skull knocked in, hm? What I saw’s
The cheek burnt through.’ ‘I will not let go and lose you,’ sh*
answered. ‘Probably,’ Lance said, ‘he’d have lied
If I could have caught him.’
In the afternoon
Fayne saw from the window above the kitchen a small gray objeci
Making a singular dance in the flying dust.
The little hawk which Lance had shot but not killed
Was dying; they had dropped it a strip of beef that dried in the
And given it a dish of water, and not again
Remembered it, though it stood up grimly and watched
Whoever passed to the privy. The water was blown
Out of the dish; no matter, it had never drunk.
Now it was flapping against the wind,
Fluttering the natural wing and trailing the broken one,
Grotesque in action as the blackcock at dawn
Making his dance of love; but this was of death.
In the night Fayne said: ‘That little hawk died. Oh, be quiet now;
You’ve shot them out of the sky. . . . Dear, I am to blame
Like you, and yet I’d be as happy at heart
As a fed bird that glides through the high air
If you were not tearing yourself.’ He made no answer,
She heard the wind tear at the roof, and said,
‘I love this place. But time has changed, let old Davie
And your dad farm it now, it is full of memories
And very fit for old men. You and I
Will take three horses for all our share of it,
And travel into the south by that deer-track
Where the planted foot is on the face of the mountain and the
High over the gray face of the sea: four or five days
Only the eagles will see us, and the coasting ships
Our fires at evening, and so on southward. But when we get to
Los Angeles, dear,
You’ll put your great white shoulders to work
For passage-money, we’ll sell the horses and ride
In a ship south, Mexico’s not far enough,
The Andes are over the ocean like our hills here,
But high as heaven.’ ‘Fancy-work,’ he mumbled. ‘Ah. Low as
Fayne said, ‘No. Listen: how the air rushes along the keel of the
roof, and the timbers whining.
That’s beautiful; and the hills around here in the cloud-race moon-
glimmer, round rocks mossed in their cracks with trees:
Can’t you see them? I can, as if I stood on them,
And all the coast mountain; and the water-face of the earth, from
here to Australia, on which thousand-mile storms
Are only like skimming swallows; and the earth, the great meteor-
ball of live stone, flying
Through storms of sunlight as if forever, and the sun that rushes
away we don’t know where, and all
The fire-maned stars like stallions in a black pasture, each one
with his stud of plunging
Planets for mares that he sprays with power; and universe after
universe beyond them, all shining, all alive:
Do you think all that needs us? Or any evil we have done
Makes any difference? We are a part of it,
And good is better than evil, but I say it like a prayer
That if you killed him, the world is all shining. It does not
If you killed him; the world’s out of our power, the goodness
Are things we cannot pervert, although we are part of them
And love them well.’ He heavily answered: ‘Have you finished?
Don’t speak of … him . . . again.’ She began to answer,
Thought, and was silent.
She fetched a pair of rawhide panniers
From the harness wall in the barn, remembering that Michael
Less than two years ago had whittled the frame, and Lance
Shaped the hairy leather and stitched it with sinew thongs.
That was the time they three in delight and love
Rode south by the sea-eagle trails to Point Vicente and Gamboa
For seven days’ hunting, when Fayne shivered with happiness,
Riding between the most beautiful and strongest man
For husband, and the gayest in the world for brother, on per*
Wild hills and by rushing streams.
She packed the panniers,
And balanced the weight, mixing her things with Lance’s.
The wind had ceased and no rain had fallen, but the air grown
Whipped up her courage to believe Lance would go,
And find life, in new places. His mother was well again;
And on the farm all things had come to a pause; he was not
The hay-loft was emptying fast; but Lance could not make it
rain by staying!
While she packed the panniers
A little agony was acting under the open window, between the
parched lips of the creek.
One of those white-crowned sparrows that make sweet voices in
the spring evenings in the orchard
Was caught by a shrike and enduring death, not the bright sur-
gical mercy of hawks, but slow and strangling.
Its little screams quivered among the gray stones and flew in the
window; Fayne sighed without noticing them,
And packed the panniers.
When Lance came up at evening she
showed him what she had done: ‘We’ll go to-morrow.’
He said he’d not leave the place in trouble, ‘Even dogs are faith-
ful. After the first good rain I’ll go.’
The reasons she made only angered him.
Late in January
Fell rain mingled with hail, and snow in the nights. Three or four
calves died in a night, then Lance
Had occupation with what survived; and the north slopes of
hills were sleeted with magic splendor
That did not melt.
Fayne was drying dishes while Mrs. Gomez
washed them; she dropped a cup
With the dazzle of the white hill in her eyes when the sun came
Then Lance’s mother filled up the door and said,
‘That Mary Abbey is here.’ Fayne answered clearly,
‘I broke a cup. She is in Idaho I think.’*
The old woman: ‘She’s thinner. Oh Fayne, there were only seven
Left of the dozen’; she gasped, remembering Michael: six were
‘She’s got something to tell you.’ Fayne said, ‘Being out of our
Has she flown back? Where’s Lance?’ and passed the old woman
As one moves a door to pass through a doorway,
But found no one; neither in the front rooms
Nor on the garden path when she opened the house-door.
Then she returned to Lance’s mother and asked,
‘Where has she gone? Where was she?’ but found no light in
Only that Mary looked waxy as a little candle,
Her heart must be terribly weak, she looked all blue by the
And must have come a wet way.
Fayne felt the jealous
Devil fingering her throat again, tightening her breath,
And hasted and found Lance; but he was alone;
In the lower creek-bed, lopping all the twigs from the willows,
making a load, to be chopped fine
And mixed with little portions of hay. She saw him reaching up
the dwarf stems, as tall as the trees,
The sky-cold knife, the purple twigs at his feet, and said, ‘Have
you seen Mary Abbey?’ ‘What?’ ‘Mary Abbey.’
‘You said she’d gone.’ ‘Well, she did go: she was up at the house
just now’; and knowing her own bitter absurdity
Fayne trembled, saying, ‘Was she here?’ He looked into the
hollow creek-bed behind him; what was Fayne seeing
To make her tremble? ‘No,’ he said. Fayne, trembling with
anger: ‘I’ll tell you what she went east for: she was pregnant.
She stopped in San Francisco to be fixed up.’ ‘That’s bad,’ he
said; ‘poor child’;
He slashed the twigs. Fayne tortured her hands together until
the pain in the knuckles made her able
To smell the wounds of the willows and say steadily, ‘What
will you do,
Now she’s come back?’ ‘Oh,’ he answered. She stood waiting;
he slashed the twigs and dropped them, saying, ‘Let her
I’ve been thinking, Fayne. I’ve been able to think, now the heat’s
broken. We have no outlet for our bad feelings.
There was a war but I was too young: they used to have little
wars all the time and that saved them,
In our time we have to keep it locked up inside and are full of
spite: and misery: or blindly in a flash:
Oh,’ he said stilly; ‘rage
Like a beast and kill the one you love best. Because our blood
grows fierce in the dark and there’s no course for it.
I dream of killing all the mouths on the coast, I dream and dream.’
She said, ‘Will you go to-morrow?’
‘No. When the grass grows up. I’m bound to save what I can for
the old people, but knives and axes
Are a temptation. Two inches of grass.’ She stood gazing; he
saw the blue of her defenseless eyes
Glance at his knife-hand. ‘Don’t be a fool,’ he said, ‘I can be
quiet forever. Have you seen the old man
When he looks at me? I think he knows.’ ‘That is impossible,’
Fayne answered. ‘Why?’ ‘For his mind is like
A hanging rock; he’d go mad when you crossed his eyes. But if
he learned it after you’d gone away
He could absorb it, like the other dreadful dreams that he eats.’
He answered, ‘Davis has known for weeks.
I can tell that.’ ‘We have friends,’ she said; ‘faithful ones.’
‘Did you say that poor child
Was . . . what did you say?’ Fayne hardened and answered,
‘Your mother saw her.’
‘I mean … no matter,’ he said.
In the night she lay
Unable to sleep; she heard the coyotes howl
And shriek on the white hill, and the dogs reply.
Omens and wraiths waked in her night-weakened nerves,
Reminders of the vague time when wolves were terrible
To one’s ancestors; and through all the staring-gaps of the night
She kept thinking or dreaming of Mary Abbey,
Who had come to the house and then lacked courage to stay,
and must no doubt
Be suffering something.
But Lance to-night slept quietly; he’d enjoyed the good fortune
Of useful and active labor outdoors, in the cold
Beautiful weather. He was so concentrated
On the one spot of anguish
That nothing else in the world was real to him. The Abbey girl
Was never real to him; not even while . . . Fayne heard her
Chipping each other in the angry darkness . . .
Nor whether she’d been in trouble.
The little wolves on the hill
Lifted their tumult into a tower of wailing; Fayne saw clearly
in her mind the little muzzles
Lifted straight up, against the starlit gray shoal of snow, and the
yellow-gray clamor shot up the night
Like a church-spire; it faded and floated away, the crackling
stars remained. ‘They smell,’ Fayne thought,
‘The dead calves, and no doubt have found them. They’ve
And now they sing. . . . Nothing is real to Lance but his wound;
But when we get away from this luckless place,
Which yet I love,
Then gradually the glory of the outer world
Will become real; when he begins to perceive the rushing and
shining storm and fragrance of things,
Then he’ll be well.’
A drift of thin rain fell in the morning;
The white vanished from the hill. The third day,
Fayne, going to spy for fear Mary might come
Where Lance was working, found old Davis in the driveway
Talking to a tall thin man on a red horse;
A Spanish man whom Fayne had not seen before,
But felt that she’d seen the horse. She eyed them and said,
‘What does he want?’ Davis, turning his back on the stranger,
Covertly touched his forehead and drooped an eyelid.
‘He works at Abbey’s. This is the famous Onorio Vasquez,
The cowboy that sees the visions. He wants to tell you: you can
send him off if you want to. Have you heard
About Abbey’s girl?’ ‘What?’ Fayne asked, her eyes narrowed,
lips thinned. ‘He says she put herself out.
The young they ain’t got consideration for nobody.’ ‘What do
you mean?’ ‘Jumped off a pier I believe.
A telegram came in their mail yesterday. Her dad’s gone up to
San Francisco to view the body.
So his hired man can roam.’ Payne’s mouth jerked, her eyes
widened. ‘I cannot understand what you mean,
Davie,’ she said; but gazed at the Spanish-Indian, the hollow
With a bluish glaze across them, in the shadow of his hat, in his
bony face. ‘Jumped off a pier,’
Davis answered with patient enjoyment; ‘it seems she kept her
address in her hand-bag on account of traveling,
So they telegraphed.’ ‘Did you say that she died?’ He nodded,
‘Mmhm: wa’n’t made for a fish, didn’t have gills.
The young ain’t got consideration for things like that.’ ‘Mary!’
Fayne said, her hand at her throat.
She drew deep breath, and sharply lifting her face toward the
silent horseman: ‘What are you waiting for,
Your news is told? ‘ He, in better English than one expected,
In the soft voice of his race: ‘You are very sorry:
Excuse me, please. I only saw her a little and she went away
After I came to work; she was beautiful with patient eyes but
I think it is often good to die young.
I often wish.’ ‘She came to this house,’ Fayne said, ‘two days
ago: how could she … in the city? She was here
The day before yesterday.’ ‘No, that was the day,’ he answered,
‘she died.’ Fayne stared at him
Without speaking; he was half dazzled by the wide blue of her
eyes below the fire-cloud of hair,
He looked at the brown earth. ‘What time did she …
What time?’ Fayne asked. ‘Don’t know.’ She said slowly,
‘I think it is … strange.’ She hardened. ‘Nothing. Have you
To tell us any other thing?’ ‘Yes,’ he said proudly,
‘I ride on the hill and see a vision over this house. You have
heard of Onorio
Vasquez? That is my name.’ Old Davis made a derisive noise
in his throat; Fayne, thinking ‘Visions?
Apparently we too . . .’ said quietly, ‘I never heard of you.’
He, saddened: ‘It does not matter.’ But Davis, the grizzled
Thatch of his lip moving to make a smile:
‘Now that’s too bad: for the man’s famous. He’s got six brothers
And every one of them knows him, every Vasquez on the coast.
If they can’t steal meat nor borrow a string of peppers they listen
to brother Onorio
Telling his dreams all through a winter night;
They don’t need nothing.’ She answered, ‘If you have nothing
to do here,
Go and help Lance.’ And to Vasquez: ‘Tell me what it is
You have to say.’ ‘You know a place in the south call’ Laurel
Spring? No?’ he said. ‘Near Point Vicente.
I never been: my brother Vidal has been. He told me a rock and
an old laurel tree
Is cut by the wind into the shape of the rock, and the spring runs
down. He made a beautiful place
The way he told; we are much Indian, we love such places.’
Fayne answered, ‘I am busy just now.’ He: ‘Excuse me, please.
I ride on the hill and every day
Watch the old war in the sky over this house;
I hurt my heart with my eyes. Sometimes a naked man
Fighting an eagle, but a rattlesnake bitten him;
Sometimes a lion fighting a tide of dogs;
But sometimes terrible armies out of the east and west, and the
hacking swords.’ Fayne gazed at him
And said, ‘Is that all?
I have just heard that my best friend has died:
I cannot think of these things.’ He said ‘The two armies
Destroyed each other, except one man alone
Walking among the bodies of horses and men
That blocked the sky; then I heard someone say,
‘Let him lie down with the others.’ Someone say, ‘No.
At Laurel Spring he will wash off the blood,
And be cured of his wound.’ I cannot live
Until I tell you.’ ‘Is it on the way
Into the south?’ Fayne said. ‘Yes: on the trail.
My brother Vidal . . .’ ‘I believe many lies
Are told about us,’ she said. ‘Have you heard talk
About this house?’ He picked at the hair rope of the halter
On the horn of the saddle. She said, ‘I can guess
What you have heard. . . . May I call you Onorio?
Because it was kind of you to come down; and thank you
For telling me about your vision.’ She went nearer to him,
To reach his eyes under the eaves of his hat.
‘Do you know Leo Ramirez?’ ‘Him? Yes.’ ‘Have you talked
He could tell you about it. He and I alone
Saw my husband’s brother climb on the cliff and fall.
Ask him and he will tell you the truth. The others lie:
To amuse idleness, I guess. If they had your great power
And saw the spirits of the air, they’d never do so.
But would you think the spirits of the dead?’ Her face
Flashed at him, soft and hard at once, like a wet stone.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘This present world is enough
For all our little strength. Good-bye, Onorio. If you hear any-
Come down and tell me … at Abbeys’ or anywhere . . .
For nobody comes down to see us any more,
On account of those wicked . . . lies . . .’ While she spoke
A sob broke through and she hid her face. He from above
Looked down at her bent head and the wild color
And foam of her hair; he reached and touched her hair
As if it were a holy thing. Fayne, in a moment
Quelling her tears: ‘I’ll remember
About the way south, that fountain. I am very unhappy
For my lost friend.’ She turned hastily away
And left him, and found Lance.
She sobbed, ‘Mary Abbey
Will never come back. I …. I liked her well enough
If she had not . . . Oh Lance.’ He was flaying the leather from
a white and red calf, kneeling to work.
He rested his red-stained hands on the carcass and looked up with
vague eyes. Fayne remembered, ‘At Laurel Spring
He’ll wash the blood . . .’ ‘Hm?’ he said, ‘what?’ ‘Mary . . .
What am I doing,’ Fayne thought, ‘I oughtn’t to tell him
While his mind is like this’; and clearing her face if she could,
making a smile, said carefully, ‘What
Do you want the skin for?’ ‘I’ve nothing to do,’ he said, ‘for
the time. Rawhide has uses. I ground my knife
After all the willows were cut. Occupation.’ ‘A sort of bloody
one,’ Fayne said carefully. ‘Well,’ he said,
And tugged at the skin with his left hand, making small cuts with
the knife against the cling of the flesh.
She stood and watched, and furtively wiped her eyes. He looked
up again: ‘No fat to scrape off.’ He dipped
The knife in the shrunken flesh between ribs. ‘Amazing,’ he
said, ‘how the beasts resemble us, bone for bone,
And guts and heart. What did you say about Mary Abbey?’
‘No,’ she answered, ‘nothing. I was too unkind.
I think how lonely she was.’ ‘Oh. You mean Mary Abbey. I
wish to God . . .’
He stopped speaking and tugged the skin, making small cuts
At the tearing-place. Fayne said, ‘Did you ever hear
Of Laurel Spring, down the coast?’ She saw his wide shoulders
Suddenly stiffen, a shadow shot over in the air
And Lance’s white-blue eyes rolled after the bird,
A big black one, with bent-up wing-tips, a flesh-color head
That hung and peered. He sighed and pulled at the skin, slicing
Fayne said, ‘A vulture. They’re living high now.’ ‘Mm,’ he
said, ‘they know: they’re always stooping over my head.
I thought it was something else.’ ‘You’ve shot them out of the
sky,’ she answered, ‘there are no hawks.’ ‘Aren’t there!’
He said, and hushed.
After a time Fayne left him, and looked
When she came to the ridge of the hill. She saw the brown breast
of earth without any grass, and the lean brown buckeye
Thicket that had no leaves but an agony of stems, and Lance
Furiously stabbing the flayed death with his knife, again and
again, and heard his fist hammer
On the basket-work of the ribs in the plunges of the hiltless
blade. She returned; when he saw her he was suddenly still.
She said, ‘Whom were you thinking of?’ He gazed in silence
as if he thought that he ought to remember her
But could not. ‘Who was being stabbed … in your mind,
Lance?’ ‘Nobody. We are all dogs. Let me amuse myself.’
‘Me?’ she said steadily. ‘No.’ She sighed and said, ‘I was going
to tell you … I will. Mary Abbey’s dead.’
She watched his blood-flecked face and his eyes, but they stood
still. ‘Oh,’ he said coldly. ‘What did she die of?’
‘Unhappiness. She drowned herself.’ ‘Too bad.’ He said no
more, and Fayne stared and said: ‘When your mother
That day, she was not real but a pleading spirit; she was dying
in the north. We never pitied her.’
‘Is she frightened?’ he said. ‘Who? Your mother? I have not
told her.’ ‘Don’t then.’
He stood up slowly,
And wiped the knife on the hair side of the skin;
He looked up the darkening wind and said, ‘It is going to rain.’
Fayne said, ‘Then will you go?’ seeing his fixed face
Against the lit cloud, so that the sanguine flecks
And smear under the cheek-bone were not apparent,
Only the ridge of the face, the unrounded chin
Higher than her eyes. He turned in silence and passed
Heavily over the grassless earth, but soon
Fayne had to run to keep up. Near the house
They came to Davis pouring water into the hand-pump
Of the old well to prime it; who said, ‘The water’s
Quit in the pipes; the crick’s not dry up yonder,
I guess a rat in the intake . . .’ Lance answered hoarsely,
‘Fish it out then. Where’s the old man?’ Fayne said,
‘What do you want, Lance?’ ‘The old man.’ Old Davis gaped
At his changed face; Fayne saw the water clamber
Up the sides of the can in the shaking hand
In little tongues that broke and ran over, ‘Hey, hey,’
Davie stammered, ‘y’ got to consider,’ but Lance touched him
With only the finger-tips, then the man raised
One arm and pointed northwestward, slant up the hill.
Lance turned and ran; Fayne followed him, but could not now
Keep up, old Davis hobbled panting behind them;
At lengthening intervals the little ridiculous chase
Crossed over the creek-bed under sycamore trees,
Past buckeye clumps, and slant up the bare hill
Below the broad moving sky.
Tall spikes of a tough weed
With leather leaves grew at a place on the hill;
A few staring-flanked cows tongued the gray leaves
But would not crop them, and broke the stalks. Old Fraser stood
Against a fence-post and watched; he saw the herd
A red and white stippling far down the slope, and the serpent-
winding creek-bed, the salt pool of its end
Behind the sand-bar, and the sandstone fang in the mouth of the
valley, from which the shore hills over sky and water
Went up each way like the wings of a sombre archangel. Lance
came from behind
And said, ‘I have run my course. I cannot go on forever.’ The
old man, broken out of his revery,
Looked blindly at the wide chest, red hands and stained face, as
if a pillar of mist had come up and stood
Threatening above him. ‘You,’ he said harshly, ‘what do you
want?’ ‘Judgment. I cannot go on alone,’
And in a boy’s voice, ‘Oh, judgment. I have done . . .
I need, I need.’ The old man’s brown apelike eyes got him clear
at length, and became after their manner
A force of thrusting, like a scorched bar of fire-hardened wood.
‘Go home,’ he said, ‘drunkard.
If there is no work in the field for your . . . hands . . what
blood is that?’ ‘My brother’s,’ Lance said. Fayne came too
And sobbed for breath, in her throat a whining, and said, ‘He
was skinning a calf down there, he was . . .’ Lance passed
Between them and leaned on the fence-wire with his hands to-
gether and dragged the palms of his hands to the right and
So that the barbs of the wire clicked on the bones of his hands
through the torn flesh. ‘And mine,’ he said.
Fayne heard the tough noise of tearing, and felt in her own
entrails through the groin upward an answering anguish.
Lance turned, hissing with pain, and babbled: ‘For no reason on
I was angry without a cause and struck him with iron and killed
him. The beast in me
That wants destruction. I mean Michael you know, Michael I
mean.’ Old Fraser staggered, saying quietly,
‘Has he had drink?’ Fayne said, ‘He . . .’ she looked up at
Lance’s beautiful head and stained gray face,
But the lower zone of her vision could not avoid his hands, and
thick blood falling from the shut knuckles:
Where was that readiness of mind, her thoughts were wailing
away on the wind like kildeer, which flitter singly,
Crying all through the white lofts of the moonlight sky, and
you never see them. ‘Am I going to tip over
For blood, like Mary?’ She stammered: ‘He . . .
Ah God. I’ll tell you . . .’ Lance said, ‘This is mine. I have
come. Keep that woman away from me until I speak.
She fooled me into concealment, time and again, Oh cunningly.
I have fallen through flight after flight of evil
And harmed many.’ Fayne gathered her mind and said,
‘This is it. This is the thing. He made love
With a girl and she has just died: now he hates me and he hopes
To take all the sins of the world onto his shoulders, to punish
himself. It is all like a mad saint.
You trained him to it. But I saw Michael . . ,’ Lance said, ‘I
remember an iron bolt for my shipwreck
Stood in my hand’: he opened the ripped palm and the red
streamed: ‘I struck.’ ‘Climb,’ Fayne said,
‘Up the awful white moon on the cliff and fall, I saw him. It is
Has killed herself.’ Lance said, ‘How your power’s faded. You’ll
Fool me or the world again. I would not die
Until I had told.’
Davis came up, and saw
Lance head and shoulders against the sky like a dead tree
On which no bird will nest; the others at his base
On the brown hill, Fayne saying ‘Oh weak as water,
How will this help you bear it?’ Davis, choked
With haste on the hill: ‘Ah. Ah. What’s he been doing?’ Lance
His two hands toward his father, suppliant, but clenched
To save the blood. ‘What shall I do?’ The old man
Stepped backward without an answer. Fayne said, ‘Because
The Abbey girl drowned herself, Lance thinks his finger
Helped push her down; but she was sick in her dreams
And might ‘a’ done it for anyone: the rest’s invention
To punish himself. I am the one to hate him
Meddling with that sick child, but I love him
And will not lose.’ Davis, eyeing certain flakes
And scraps on the red thorns of the wire, sighed ‘Ah
That was a ghastly thing,’ and stood swaying,
Yellow and withered. Old Fraser’s burnt wandering eyes
Fixed on him, the old man said: ‘Which is the liar?
Did Lance do it?’ Lance opened his palms toward him
As if they would take and hold, saying ‘Tell the truth,
I will not bear to live in the dark any more.’
Davis groaned, ‘Ay. It’s true I guess.’ Fayne: ‘Ah, Ah, coward.
Because he held his hands at you.’ She said to old Fraser:
‘People hate you and your enemies made this story
Because you still had a son after Michael died.
This is what they have whispered so long, and Lance has heard it
And uses it to stab himself.’ Lance said, ‘It is horrible
To hear the lies from her mouth like bees from a hive
Hot in the sun. I was Michael’s death;
And I cannot bear it in silence. Only I pray you all to keep it
Hidden from my mother; you can do that
With a little care, with a little care, she cannot live long.
Make a story to save her.’ Old Fraser, suddenly
Covering his face: ‘Me . . . has anyone cared a little to save
Lest I live to the bitterness?’ He passed among them
With tottering steps, tasting the way with his hands,
And down the hill toward home. Lance stood and muttered,
‘What did he say, did he answer me?
He’s honest, I bank on that.’
A short way down
The old man stumbled and nearly falling stood still a moment;
Then turned his course up the hill and seemed to make haste
With short weak steps. Lance watched him and followed soon,
But turned fiercely on old Da vie: ‘Back to work. Off.
That rat in the intake.’ And to Fayne: ‘How death
Makes even a rat powerful, they swell like clouds.
Leave me, will you.’ She answered, ‘I will never leave you.
But you, Davie, go home.’ ‘Hm?” Lance said, ‘never? You take
Tie up my hands then; I think the seepage dulls me
More than the hurt helps. Here’s a handkerchief:
Your dress is old.’ She tore it, and while she bandaged him
They stood, the old man trotted on. Lance dully wondered:
‘Why did I come to him; because he believes in God?
What the hell good is that? Hm? Oh, to put it
Out of its misery.’ ‘I know you have been in torture,’ Fayne
‘And now you have done unwisely but yet we’ll live: not here,
but certainly, fully
And freely again. You might have spared that old man.
Our joined lives are not weak enough to have gone down
In one bad night. . . . Oh Lance,’ she prayed suddenly, ‘have
mercy on me. While you tear and destroy yourself
It is me that you tear.’
He went on, she followed. On the high
Stood the bleak name-posts of those three burials, one new and
two old, erect against the sinking gray sky,
And seemed to rise higher as the clouds behind went down. The
old man was struggling across a gully this side.
Fayne breathlessly said, ‘Lance, Lance, can you hear me? He is
going up to Michael’s grave, where his wild mind, that
Not spared, is to find some kind of fall, some kind of decision.
Do you remember, dear, that you took me
To Michael’s grave a while back? You were so angry.
But that was the break of our bitter frost.
And maybe there, or maybe afterwards at home in bed: some-
time you put new life in my body.
Do you remember that I begged you for it? I could not bear
That that sick child and not I …
Through me you go on, the other threw you away. Remember,
whatever destroying answer
Is to gore us now,
A spark of your life is safe and warm in my body and will find
the future. There is some duty in the parcel
With being a father; I think some joys too. But not to destroy
Not now I think.’ ‘Sing to yourself,’ Lance answered.
‘I am sorry if she died sadly, I’ve worse to think of.’
Fayne saw old Fraser, crooked and black against the light cloud,
Totter up the hilltop and dropp himself down
By the new name-post, but he stood up again
Before Lance and Fayne came. He screamed, ‘Keep off,’
And picked up clods of the herbless earth and threw them,
But Lance went up without noticing. ‘What must I do?’
He prayed, ‘I cannot live as I am.’ Old Fraser
Suddenly kneeling covered his face and wept,
And said, ‘What has God done? I had two sons and loved them
And he is jealous. Oh Lance, was there no silence in the stream-
To cover your mouth with, forever against me?
I am not. Not hangman. Tell your story
Where it belongs. Give yourself up.
Must I take you?’ ‘That’s what I thought of at the very first,
But have been deluded awhile,’ Lance answered quietly,
And turned to go down. Fayne cried, ‘What good is this? Oh,
but how often,
Father, you have spoken of the godless world: is that what Lance
is to go to for help and punishment?
When they came to put a serum into your cows, what did you
say? You would not trust an old cow to them,
Will you trust Lance? If he were as red as Cain . . . when
hunters come and break down your fences here
Do we run to the law? Must we run to it
For a dearer cause? What justice or what help or what under-
standing? I told him to give his heart
To the wild hawks to eat rather than to men.’ Lance gripped her
elbow with the tips of his fingers,
And pointing at the empty air past the old man: ‘See, he looks
pleased wi’ me,
And happy again.’ She looked first at Lance, then at the vacant
air. ‘How could he help but forgive you,’
She answered, ‘he knows it was not hatred but madness.
Why must you punish yourself, you loved each other’; and to
the old man: ‘Is God’s hand lamed? Tell Lance
To lean on your God; what can man do for him? I cannot re-
member,’ she said trembling, ‘how Cain ended.
There were no prisons I am sure?’ Lance said, ‘He looks well.
No scar at all and his eyes laughing. Ah, Ah, look:
He waved his hand at his grave and laughed. I’ll tell you, though,
He’s not real. Don’t mistake him. It makes me glad,
But it’s bright nothing. Now it’s gone: see?’ The old man, sud-
Erect and shaking against the gray cloud: ‘I will have no part in
It is written that sevenfold vengeance on the slayer of Cain. Go.
Go. To be a fugitive and be a vagabond,
And tramp the earth hard that has opened her mouth for thy
brother’s blood. No wonder the sweet rain could not fall.
I say flee quickly, before the dogs . . . should I give
My son to be judged by dogs?’ Fayne said, ‘Do you hear him,
Lance, he has answered you. We must go away south,
As I’ve been praying.’ Lance said, ‘It has all been useless and
blind. I am back in hell.’ He sighed and went down
The way Fayne led, old Fraser behind them crying:
‘If you had listened in the days before: now it is night,
And who shall hear? but the sharp feet of pursuers: yet look
how Christ’s blood
Flows like a fiery comet through heaven and would rain sweet-
The fields refuse.’
Fayne said, ‘I am going to tell your mother
That you’ve got work as foreman on a farm in the south,
A dairy I’ll say, near Paso Robles. You’ve got to go and earn
Because we’re to have a baby. But next summer
She’ll see us again: we’ll come visiting: do you understand?
You must not let her think that you’re going for good;
She couldn’t bear that perhaps; but cheerfully say good-bye,
You’ll save the sorrow, that’s your wish, perhaps even
The ticking of her tired heart. Can you do it, Lance?
No,’ she said sadly when she looked at his face.
‘I’ll say that you’ve gone ahead. You had to go suddenly
To get the job.’ ‘By God,’ he said, ‘I can do my own lying,
And smooth a face of my own, come on and watch me.
It is my mother.’ ‘Your hands, Lance.’ He moaned impatiently
‘How will you say they were hurt?’ He moaned, ‘Hobbled,
Never an inch. That’s the first rule in hell,
Never to step one inch until it is planned.
… In the feed-cutter.’ Fayne said ‘I daren’t. Yes, at the end.
I’ll find clean cloth to bandage them. You must wash.
Get Davie to help you ready the horses.
The pack is ready, only we must put food in it.’
He answered, ‘I am sick of life. I have beaten at the last door
And found a fool.’
Beyond Abbey’s place
The trail began to wind up to the streaming cloud.
Fayne looked back: Abbey’s was hidden, the awful memoried
Crouched indistinguishable. Lance said fiercely,
44 What do you see?’ ‘Nothing.’ Fayne led the packhorse
To save torture of his hands; Lance rode behind.
He stopped on the rounding of a high fold of the hillside
And turned himself in the saddle, with his finger-tips
On the withers and on the croup. Fayne stopped. ‘Did you see,’
The look of the man that watched us by Abbey’s fence?’
‘What, Lance? I am quite sure you are wrong: there has been
Since we left home.’ ‘Then I was mistaken.
… I see nobody following. If they come after me
I’ll kill them; I am not going to be interfered with now.
My trouble’s my own affair. I’d cut my heart out
To make him live: that’s out of the question. I have beaten like
a blind bird at every window of the world.
No rational exit. No cure. Nothing. Go on. No,’ he said, ‘wait.
You know it’s our last chance to see home. There are our hills
but the valley’s hidden. There’s Fraser’s Point,
Do you see? The small jag: like a beak, ah? And,’ he said slowly,
On this side, glimmering along . . . that cliff you know.
Looks like flat shore.’ ‘Dear,’ she said faintly, ‘it would be better
not to look back. We’re going far. Come.’
‘Worn flat I suppose by my thoughts, walking around, up and
down, walking around. Don’t talk about it.
I can even pick out the hill where we stood this morning, that
posted hill. I’m a little run down in health,
Perhaps these haggles in my hands will poison. Go on: I’ve seen
Around the corner of the hill, where wet earth hushed
The stony hooves, ‘Did you tell me,’ Lance said,
‘That my mother saw Mary . . . what did you tell me
When she died?’ Fayne felt a tired hope of joy:
He was thinking of someone else than Michael at least.
‘Your mother saw her the day she died; probably the hour
And very moment. She thought that she asked for me,
But when I came, the presence had disappeared.’
‘What about it?’ he said, ‘there’s no sense in it.’ ‘No.
That’s the manner of … spirits. She had a clear sweet nature,
Candid and loving.’ Lance answered, ‘I am much troubled
About leaving my mother. The skin looked bluish again
Around her nostrils; we ought not to have left her.’ Fayne heard
An angry repeated crying high up in the air;
She was careful not to look up, but stealthily
Looked back at Lance; and said, ‘She was happy, dear,
When I told her about the baby; she was full of plans.
And we’ll write often.’ He was glaring up at the sky,
His face menacing and pale. Fayne said, ‘Lance?’
And when he did not answer, herself looked up and watched a
great soaring bird,
White-tailed, white-headed, a bald eagle, wide over the moun-
tain and shore scribing his arc of flight,
Tormented by a red-tail hawk that sailed above. The hawk dived,
screaming, and seemed to strike,
The eagle dipped a wing with reluctant dignity
And sailed his course. ‘Oh, you can’t kill them all,’
Fayne said, ‘from here to Mexico.’ ‘I don’t want to.
They win, damn them.’
They climbed at length to the cloudy
Where the high trail went south; they rode through the clouds
and in windy clearings
Would see enormous declivities tilting from the hooves of the
horses down wells of vapor to the sudden shore’s
Thin white surf on a rock like a grain of sand. Two or three times
Fayne heard Lance stop; she sat in the cloud and waited until he
came. When the ridge and the trail widened
They rode abreast; then she saw that he’d stripped
The bandage from his right hand, but one thin layer
The wound gaped through. ‘Oh Lance, it is all exposed: was it
too tight?’ ‘Too stiff.’ ‘I must fix it.
Have you thrown the linen away?’ He said with a shamed face,
‘Let’s be friends, Fayne. I feel somebody
Behind us; and I can tell you I won’t be caught. I have my gun:
I can’t manage the trigger
Wi’ that muff on my hand.’ ‘You are right,’ she answered with
a flash of joyful fear; ‘but it is certain
That no one’s following. Your wrist looks swollen.’ ‘No,’ he
said; ‘but it is strange and pleasant to have left the place
Along with you. Your hair is like a fire in the cloud.’ She an-
swered, ‘We have changed worlds.’ ‘Wait for me,’
He said, and turned and went back. Hearing him speak, but not
able to see him through the blind vapor,
She struggled in a kind of nightmare to turn the packhorse
To go back to him; she dropped the hair rope and struck
Her mount with fists and heels. As it leaped, Lance
Grew out of the fog, towering on his little horse.
‘What was it? What did you see?’ ‘Ah, nobody.
I could V sworn.’
He was always listening as they went on,
And looking back, if the steam of the world cleared
Over the draft from a gorge. Fayne suddenly stopped
In the blind coil and drizzle of the cloud. ‘Are you there, Lance?
Are you all right?’ ‘Hm? Yes,’ he answered, ‘I know it.
But I never can see him.’ Fayne said quietly, ‘Perhaps he is.
As when your mother saw Mary Abbey. But they’re not real,
As you and I are, and the hard mountains and the horses and the
wet cloud. He is not an enemy; we never
A moment hated him, but always loved and were sorry. But he
is only an echo of our own troubled
And loving thoughts.’ Lance laughed like the sudden bark of a
Have got to take what they get. But what’s real, ah? How do you
know?’ ‘I never thought of it,’ she answered,
‘But I can tell you. What eyes, ears, fingers, can feel; and come
again the next day
And feel again: that’s real. You may see visions but you cannot
touch them; but if you could touch them too,
Yet they don’t last. . . . Did you ever hear of a place called
Laurel Spring?’ ‘No. Any water would do.
It’s growing toward night.’ ‘I was thinking about a man named
Vasquez,’ she answered,
‘That sees visions.’
The trail had come lower,
They rode in dropping skeins of the cloud, a slight cattle-track
On a steeple-roof slope so sheer and high
That every stone the hooves kicked out rolled down
Into deep water; but had dwindled from sight down the pitch of
The first quarter of its fall. The sea-west heaven
Opened an eye, whence the last of the sun
Flamed, like a fire fallen into a well
Flashing before it is drowned, that makes the black disk of water
As bright as blood; and the wild angry light streams from the
bottom up the stained wall
And washes with color every cold stone: so from the floor of the
world a fountain and flood of roses
Flew up to the height, those two riders might have seen
Their own blue shadows on the red cloud above them;
Then the eye of the west closed. Color was there
But no radiance, here the gray evening gathered.
Lance’s mount suddenly stumbled; Fayne cried out;
And they rode on. Lance said, ‘Now he’s ahead of us;
The horse shied when he passed; I couldn’t see him.
It’s trembling still.’ Fayne said, ‘No wonder. If it had fallen
It would roll from here to the sea; oh, keep your feet
Light in the stirrups. Your bay’s getting too old, Lance.
To-morrow it must take the pack; you’ll ride the pinto.’
‘To-morrow!’ he said. Fayne turned and looked and said noth-
ing, feeling intolerable sadness
Grow over her mind like the gray darkness covering the world;
for a moment it seemed they were not escaping
But only dragging the trap; and the twilight darkened. There
was no stopping here;
They rode like flies upon the face of a wall;
The tired horses must stick if they could, and go in darkness
Until some flat place found. Fayne was tired too,
And shook in the cold. ‘Lance, Lance, ride carefully.
If you should fall I’ll follow. I will not live
Without you.’ He laughed, ‘Ha!’ like the bark of a dog.
‘No danger here, we are going in the perfect owl’s eye.
Michael has gone ahead to make ready for us.
You know: a camp.’ ‘What?’ she said. ‘You know: a camp.
We’ll come to it.’ ‘Oh Lance, ride carefully.’ A kind of shoulder
on the wall
Showed in the dark, and a little noise
That Fayne thought was the sea. Lance called behind her,
‘Hello. Are you there?’ She said, ‘Here, Lance.’ ‘Uhk-hm.
The other fellow; not you.’ She thought ‘I can’t bear it,’
And said quietly, ‘It’s water my horse has found.
It must be a little creek; I can hear it falling.’
They stopped and drank under the whispering bushes,
And found no place to lie down. There were no stars,
But three ships’ lights crept on the cavernous depth
And made a constellation in the under-world;
Lance said, ‘Damn you, go on.’ Fayne understood
By the useless curse how his mind stared. The horses
Paced on with heads down, and around the fold of the hill
Stopped of themselves. Here in a shallow gully
There seemed to be room to camp, between the sharp slope
And a comb of bushes.
Fayne saw a glimmer move in the dark
And sobbed to restrain a cry; it was Lance’s hand
From which he had slipped the bandage; the wound and its wet
Shone phosphorescent: the right hand: the hand that had done it.
Or can pain shine? In a moment Fayne thought more quietly:
‘Is it infected, could infection shine in the dark like decaying
wood?’ He was feeling the earth for sticks
To start a fire: she dipped in the pannier and found the matches.
In the red firelight she examined his hand:
Feverish, a little; but less than his lips and eyes: Oh, when would
the strain end? ‘Let’s make a big fire,
This our first night of freedom, and keep ghosts away.’ She took
the short-handled axe from the pannier side
And broke dead wood with it. ‘We’ll make a bright eye up here
for the night, in the high blackness, for the hollow night,
For the ships to wonder what star . . . I’ll tell you what star,
You streaming ships: the camp-fire of Lance and Fayne is the
star; we are not beaten, we are going to live.
We have come out of the world and are free, more hawk than
human, we’ve given our hearts to the hawks to keep
In the high air.’ Lance laughed, ‘Ha! Owls you mean. Wel-
come.’ He kept his hands
From the fire-heat, and would take no food.
The famished horses
Moved in the dark; Lance ground his teeth in sick sleep;
Wind whispered; the ocean moaned; that tinkling water
Fell down the rock. Fayne lay and was cold; she wondered
Whether it was Laurel Spring perhaps; then perfectly knowing
That all the leaves were oak, she was compelled
To creep away in the darkness and crush leaves
To smell their nature. ‘I was not like this
A year ago,’ she thought wistfully, ‘to lie wakeful
And stare at the words of a fool; in the high sweetness
Of mountain night.’ Her solitary mind
Made itself a strange thought: that Lance would be saved and
But she herself would die at the baby’s birth,
After some happy months: it seemed to lead hope
Into the line of nature again; for nobody ever
Comes off scot-free.
She slept a little; Lance woke
And felt his hands aching, and thought, ‘It cannot be true
That I killed. Oh yes, it is. At every waking.
And there is no way to change it.’ Night was grown pale
In the way to dawn, and many dark cold forms
Of bush and rock stood quietly. But moving creatures
Troubled the stillness, Lance heard the steps of pursuit
Along the trail from the north, more than one rider;
Then his long-frustrate and troublesome life
Flaming like joy for the meeting, shook its bewildered elements
To one sharp edge. He was up, and moved quietly,
Willing to let Fayne sleep, in the sunset cloud
And pillow of her hair. His puffed hot fingers buckled
In a moment without fumbling the bolstered belt
That had the gun; he caught the short-handled axe
That magnetlike drew his hand; and the world was suddenly
Most cool and spacious.
Four lean steers
Led by a barren cow were along the path.
They had come to drink in the dawn twilight, and now
Remembered a grass-plot southward. Where Lance met them
The trail was but a hair of passage stepped in the face
Of a leaning clay cliff; the leader stopped,
Was pushed from behind, and trying in her fear to turn,
Splayed with both forefeet over the slippery edge,
Felt the axe bite her neck; so leaping out blindly
Slid down the pit. They were horsemen to Lance, his enemies,
Albeit a part of his mind was awake and faintly
Knew what they were; the master part willed them to be
Men pursuing a murderer; they were both cattle and men
At the one moment. For being men, hated; for being cattle,
The hand was more free to strike, the fiery delight
More pure of guilt. The steer came on, not angrily,
Dull and unable to turn, dipping his new-moon horns,
Lance whining with joy and reckless of his own body
With both hands on the axe-helve drove the sharp steel
Into the shoulder; it broke right through the shoulder-blade
And nicked the broad ribs below. At the same moment
The curve and base of a horn found Lance’s thigh
And pushed; but he with his weight flung forward
In the fury of the axe-blow went over the head
Onto the shoulder, and a moment clung there, as when an old
Has hunted under the spite of fortune for many days, until his
bright hide is ruffled, and the ribs
Lift up the hair; he comes by a secret way and crouches in the
alder leaves an hour before dawn
Over a pool where the deer drink; but not a deer but a cow-elk
comes to the pool,
And stands in the glimmer and the trembling twilight, and stoops
her head: the puma watches, his lustful mind
Can even taste the hot flesh through the rough hide, and smell the
soft heavy fountain of blood: he springs,
And sticks on the shoulder, blunting his teeth against the great
bones of the neck; but the elk does not fall,
But runs, and beats her death against the low branches, and scrapes
So Lance fell off from the steer’s shoulder, and was ground
Between the flank and the cliff, as the numbed foreleg
Failed and recovered. The weight lifting, he stood
With his back to the steep wall and violently
Pushed the great hairy quarters with all his power
Of both his arms; the hind hooves fell over the edge,
And the forelegs, one crippled, scraped the stiff clay
In vain for foothold, the great hurt bulk went down
Standing, but fell in a moment and slid in the chasm.
The others had turned and fled.
Fayne saw her lover
Come swaying and shining against the gray sky
Over the abyss of darkness, and she had seen the steer fall.
Lance held the axe. ‘Ah, Ah,’ Fayne cried, ‘strike then. Strike.
Finish it. We have not lived pleasantly,
And I have failed.’ He threatened her, laughing with pleasure.
‘I have not had such pleasure in the days of my life.
Did the dogs think they were hunting rabbit? Surprised them, ah f
ah?’ She said, ‘Your hands have opened again
And dripping fast.’ ‘More?’ he said, hearing the horses that
stamped and snorted beyond. ‘Oh, good. If they get me,
Remember it’s a grand end.’ He ran and struck
The nearest; it was holding its head ready for the axe, backing and
On the taut halter, and went down on its knees; the second stroke
Chopped horribly along the neck, the third ended the pain. Lance
crouched and looked at the head, and wearily
Rose, and said slackly, ‘There was no way out, here, either. My
own horse you see.
I must ‘a’ been … I have been troubled.
Bearing my face on every glass gap and porthole . . .
And get a beaten face.
Were those more horses?’ Fayne had stood rigid; she said,
‘Steers.’ ‘Why didn’t they shoot? … Oh … Steers. Tbafs it.
Yet I hate blood.
See how it springs from the ground: struck oil at last, ah?
I felt like this, that time. So we’ve tried a long time
And never found
My exit: I think there’s none: the world’s closed.
A brave fellow, a tethered horse.
A natural butcher.’
One of the fallen forelegs
Paddled its hoof on the earth and Lance said faintly, ‘I’ve come to
I cannot even put him out of his pain.’
He dropped the red axe; Fayne saw his own blood spring from his
When he let go. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘have I got the gun on me?
Will you finish him off?’ ‘He is dead,’ she answered.
‘Listen, Lance.’ Her throat was twisting and beating upward
with hot nausea; she swallowed and said,
‘Dearest. This is only a stumble on the way. We are going on.
You will be well after this.
You are dreadful with blood but you are too beautiful
And strong to fail. Look, dear,
How the clear quivering waters and white of dawn fill the whole
world; they seem to wash the whole mountain
All gently and white, and over the sea, purifying everything. If
I were less tired
I could be full of joy.’ She pressed her hands to her throat and
swallowed and said, ‘Where you and I
Have come to, is a dizzy and lonely place on a height; we have to
Some humanness here or it will be hard to live. If you could think
that all human feelings, repentance
And blood-thirst too, are not very important in so vast a world;
nor anyone’s life;
Nor love either, the unlucky angel
That has led me so far: we’ll go on, we’ll not fail. All over the
The eagles and little falcons and all the bright cold hawks
you’ve made friends with them now are widening
Their wings to wash them in the cool clearness, and over the
precipices launching their bodies like ships
On the high waves of dawn. For us too
Dawn brings us wandering; and any ghost or memory that wants
to follow us will be sore in the feet
Before the day’s end. We’re going until the world changes, you
and I like the young hawks
Going hunting; we’ll take the world by the throat and make him
What we desire.’
He stood bent over, smiling sidewise, watch-
ing the drip from his hands, and said,
‘You do it quite bravely. No doubt you are right, and I must
take your guidance without a word
From this time on. What next? I’ll go wash. Faugh.
What a hell of red to be stuck in; you’re out o’ luck,
Loving a butcher.’ She answered with her hands at her mouth,
struggling against her sickness, ‘I’ll come in a moment
And help you to clean your hands and bandage them again.’ He
went back by the trail, but she
Vomited with grievous labor a little water and followed him.
Now all the world was quite clear
And full of dawn, so that Fayne saw from the trail
The jutting shoulder of the hill, guessed at in darkness,
Was a great rock, lengthened by thick hard foliage
Of mountain laurel, which grew above it, and the wind had
Into the very nature and form of the rock
That gave it shelter, but green for gray. She remembered
With a wild lift of the heart, ‘He’d wash the blood
In Laurel Spring, and be healed of his wounds,’
But Lance had not gone to the stony basin, but stood
Out on the ledge of the rock, and was looking down
The straight vast depth, toward the beauty of the ocean
Like a gray dove’s breast under the dawn-light. She could not
call to him
Before he leaped and went down. He was falling erect
With his feet under him for a long time,
But toward the bottom he began turning in the air.
One of the roots of the mountain concealed his end
On the shore rocks. Fayne lay down in the trail
And thought that when she was able she would go down to him,
One way or another. ‘. . . That would be happiest.
But then he’d be extinguished forever, his last young spark
That lies warm in my body, bought too dear
For gulls to eat . . . and I never could help you at all,
And now has come the wild end.
I could not keep you, but your child in my body
Will change the world.’
She climbed slowly down,
Rock to rock, bush to bush. At length she could see him
Lying softly, and there was somebody bending above hini f
Who was gone in a moment. It was not so dreadful
As she had feared; she kissed the stained mouth,
And brought smooth stones from the shore until she had covered
Her love against the vultures and salty gulls;
Then climbed up, rock to rock, bush to bush.