It's Bundren, from down beyond New Hope," Quick says. "There's one of them
Snopes horses Jewel's riding."
"I didn't know there was ere a one of them horses left," MacCallum says.
"I thought you folks down there finally contrived to give them all away."
"Try and get that one," Quick says. The wagon went on.
"I bet old man Lon never gave it to him," I says.
"No," Quick says. "He bought it from pappy." The wagon went on. "They must
not a heard about the bridge," he says.
"What're they doing up here, anyway?" MacCallum says.
"Taking a holiday since he got his wife buried, I reckon," Quick says.
"Heading for town, I reckon, with Tull's bridge gone too. I wonder if they aint
heard about the bridge."
"They'll have to fly, then," I says. "I dont reckon there's ere a bridge
between here and Mouth of Ishatawa."
They had something in the wagon. But Quick had been to the funeral three
days ago and we naturally never thought anything about it except that they were
heading away from home mighty late and that they hadn't heard about the bridge.
"You better holler at them," MacCallum says. Durn it, the name is right on the
tip of my tongue. So Quick hollered and they stopped and he went to the wagon
and told them.
He come back with them. "They're going to Jefferson," he says. "The bridge
at Tull's is gone, too." Like we didn't know it, and his face looked funny,
around the nostrils, but they just sat there, Bundren and the girl and the chap
on the seat, and Cash and the second one, the one folks talks about, on a plank
across the tail-gate, and the other one on that spotted horse. But I reckon they
was used to it by then, because when I said to Cash that they'd have to pass by
New Hope again and what they'd better do, he just says,
³I reckon we can get there."
I aint much for meddling. Let every man run his own business to suit
himself, I say. But after I talked to Rachel about them not having a regular man
to fix her and it being July and all, I went back down to the barn and tried to
talk to Bundren about it.
"I give her my promise," he says. "Her mind was set on it."
I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on
moving once he does get started off, the same as he was set on staying still,
like it aint the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping. And
like he would be kind of proud of whatever come up to make the moving or the
setting still look hard. He set there on the wagon, hunched up, blinking,
listening to us tell about how quick the bridge went and how high the water was,
and I be durn if he didn't act like he was proud of it, like he had made the
river rise himself.
"You say it's higher than you ever see it before?" he says. "God's will be
done," he says. "I reckon it wont go down much by morning, neither," he says.
"You better stay here tonight," I says, "and get a early start for New
Hope tomorrow morning." I was just sorry for them bone-gaunted mules. I told
Rachel, I says, "Well, would you have had me turn them away at dark, eight miles
from home? What else could I do," I says. "It wont be but one night, and they'll
keep it in the barn, and they'll sholy get started by daylight." And so I says,
"You stay here tonight and early tomorrow you can go back to New Hope. I got
tools enough, and the boys can go on right after supper and have it dug and
ready if they want" and then I found that girl watching me. If her eyes had a
been pistols, I wouldn't be talking now. I be dog if they didn't blaze at me.
And so when I went down to the barn I come on them, her talking so she never
noticed when I come up.
"You promised her," she says. "She wouldn't go until you promised. She
thought she could depend on you. If you dont do it, it will be a curse on you."
"Cant no man say I dont aim to keep my word," Bundren says. "My heart is
open to ere a man."
"I dont care what your heart is," she says. She was whispering, kind of,
talking fast. "You promised her. You've got to. You--" then she seen me and
quit, standing there. If they'd been pistols, I wouldn't be talking now. So when
I talked to him about it, he says,
"I give her my promise. Her mind is set on it."
"But seems to me she'd rather have her ma buried close by, so she could--"
"It's Addie I give the promise to," he says. "Her mind is set on it."
So I told them to drive it into the barn, because it was threatening rain
again, and that supper was about ready. Only they didn't want to come in.
"I thank you," Bundren says. "We wouldn't discommode you. We got a little
something in the basket. We can make out."
"Well," I says, "since you are so particular about your womenfolks, I am
too. And when folks stops with us at meal time and wont come to the table, my
wife takes it as a insult."
So the girl went on to the kitchen to help Rachel. And then Jewel come to
"Sho," I says. "Help yourself outen the loft. Feed him when you bait the
"I ratter pay you for him," he says.
"What for?" I says. "I wouldn't begrudge no man a bait for his horse."
"I rather pay you," he says; I thought he said extra.
"Extra for what?" I says. "Wont he eat hay and corn?"
"Extra feed," he says. "I feed him a little extra and I dont want him
beholden to no man."
"You cant buy no feed from me, boy," I says. "And if he can eat that loft
clean, I'll help you load the ham onto the wagon in the morning."
"He aint never been beholden to no man," he says. "I rather pay you for
And if I had my rathers, you wouldn't be here a-tall, I wanted to say. But
I just says, "Then it's high time he commenced. You cant buy no feed from me."
When Rachel put supper on, her and the girl went and fixed some beds. But
wouldn't any of them come in. "She's been dead long enough to get over that sort
of foolishness," I says. Because I got just as much respect for the dead as ere
a man, but you've got to respect the dead themselves, and a woman that's been
dead in a box four days, the best way to respect her is to get her into the
ground as quick as you can. But they wouldn't do it.
"It wouldn't be right," Bundren says. "Course, if the boys wants to go to
bed, I reckon I can set up with her. I dont begrudge her it."
So when I went back down there they were squatting on the ground around
the wagon, all of them. "Let that chap come to the house and get some sleep,
anyway," I says. "And you better come too," I says to the girl. I wasn't aiming
to interfere with them. And I sholy hadn't done nothing to her that I knowed.
"He's done already asleep," Bundren says. They had done put him to bed in
the trough in a empty stall.
"Well, you come on, then," I says to her. But still she never said
nothing. They just squatted there. You couldn't hardly see them. "How about you
boys?" I says. "You got a full day tomorrow." After a while Cash says,
"I thank you. We can make out."
"We wouldn't be beholden," Bundren says. "I thank you kindly."
So I left them squatting there. I reckon after four days they was used to
it. But Rachel wasn't.
"It's a outrage," she says. "A outrage."
"What could he a done?" I says. "He give her his promised word."
"Who's talking about him?" she says. "Who cares about him?" she says,
crying. "I just wish that you and him and all the men in the world that torture
us alive and flout us dead, dragging us up and down the country--"
"Now, now," I says. "You're upset."
"Dont you touch me!" she says. "Dont you touch me!"
A man cant tell nothing about them. I lived with the same one fifteen
years and I be durn if I can. And I imagined a lot of things coming up between
us, but I be durn if I ever thought it would be a body four days dead and that a
woman. But they make life hard on them, not taking it as it comes up, like a man
So I laid there, hearing it commence to rain, thinking about them down
there, squatting around the wagon and the rain on the roof, and thinking about
Rachel crying there until after a while it was like I could still hear her
crying even after she was asleep, and smelling it even when I knowed I couldn't.
I couldn't decide even then whether I could or not, or if it wasn't just knowing
it was what it was.
So next morning I never went down there. I heard them hitching up and then
when I knowed they must be about ready to take out, I went out the front and
went down the road toward the bridge until I heard the wagon come out of the lot
and go back toward New Hope. And then when I come back to the house, Rachel
jumped on me because I wasn't there to make them come in to breakfast. You cant
tell about them. Just about when you decide they mean one tiling, I be durn if
you not only haven't got to change your mind, like as not you got to take a
rawhiding for thinking they meant it.
But it was still like I could smell it. And so I decided then that it
wasn't smelling it, but it was just knowing it was there, like you will get
fooled now and then. But when I went to the barn I knew different When I walked
into the hallway I saw something. It kind of hunkered up when I come in and I
thought at first it was one of them got left, then I saw what it was. It was a
buzzard. It looked around and saw me and went on down the hall, spraddle-legged,
with its wings kind of hunkered out, watching me first over one shoulder and
then over the other, like a old bald-headed man. When it got outdoors it begun
to fly. It had to fly a long time before it ever got up into the air, with it
thick and heavy and full of rain like it was.
If they was bent on going to Jefferson, I reckon they could have gone
around up by Mount Vernon, like MacCallum di
d. He’ll get home about day after
tomorrow, horseback. Then they'd be just eighteen miles from town. But maybe
this bridge being gone too has learned him the Lord's sense and judgment.
That MacCallum. He's been trading with me off and on for twelve years. I
have known him from a boy up; know his name as well as I do my own. But be durn
if I can say it.
The signboard comes in sight. It is looking out at the road now, because it can
wait. New Hope. 3 mi. it will say. New Hope. 3 mi. New Hope. 3 mi. And then the
road will begin, curving away into the trees, empty with waiting, saying New
Hope three miles.
I heard that my mother is dead. I wish I had time to let her die. I wish I
had time to wish I had. It is because in the wild and outraged earth too soon
too soon too soon. It's not that I wouldn't and will not it's that it is too
soon too soon too soon.
Now it begins to say it. New Hope three miles. New Hope three miles.
That's what they mean by the womb of time: the agony and the despair of
spreading bones, the hard girdle in which lie the outraged entrails of events
Cash's head turns slowly as we approach, his pale empty sad composed and
questioning face following the red and empty curve; beside the bade wheel Jewel
sits the horse, gazing straight ahead.
The land runs out of Darl's eyes; they swim to pinpoints. They begin at my
feet and rise along my body to my face, and then my dress is gone: I sit naked
on the seat above the unhurrying mules, above the travail. Suppose I tell him
to turn. He will do what I say. Dont you know he will do what I say? Once I
waked with a black void rushing under me. I could not see. I saw Vardaman rise
and go to the window and strike the knife into the fish, the blood gushing,
hissing like steam but I could not see. He'll do as I say. He always does. I
can persuade him to anything. "You know I can. Suppose I say Turn here. That was
when I died that time. Suppose I do. We'll go to New Hope. We wont have to go
to town. I rose and took the knife from the streaming fish still hissing and
I killed Darl.
When I used to sleep with Vardaman I had a nightmare once I thought I was
awake but I couldn't see and couldn't feel I couldn't feel the bed under me and
I couldn't think what I was I couldn't think of my name I couldn't even think I
am a girl I couldn't even think I nor even think I want to wake up nor remember
what was opposite to awake so I could do that I knew that something was passing
but I couldn't even think of time then all of a sudden I knew that something
was it was wind blowing over me it was like the wind came and blew me back from
where it was I was not blowing the room and Vardaman asleep and all of them
back, under me again and going on like a piece of cool silk dragging across my
It blows cool out of the pines, a sad steady sound. New Hope. Was 3 mi.
Was 3 mi. I believe in God I believe in God.
"Why didn't we go to New Hope, pa?" Vardaman says. "Mr Samson said we was,
but we done passed the road."
Darl says, "Look, Jewel." But He is not looking at me. He is looking at
the sky. He buzzard is as still as if He were nailed to it.
We turn into Tull's lane. We pass the barn and go on, the wheels
whispering in the mud, passing the green rows of cotton in the wild earth, and
Vernon little across the field behind the plow. He lifts his hand as we pass and
stands there looking after us for a long while.
"Look, Jewel," Darl says. Jewel sits on his horse like they were both made
out of wood, looking straight ahead.
I believe in God, God. God, I believe in God.
After they passed I taken the mule out and looped up the trace chains and
followed. They was setting in the wagon at the end of the levee when I caught up
with them. Anse was setting there, looking at the bridge where it was swagged
down into the river with just the two ends in sight. He was looking at it like
he had believed all the time that folks had been lying to him about it being
gone, but like he was hoping all the time it really was. Kind of pleased
astonishment he looked, setting on the wagon in his Sunday pants, mumbling his
mouth. Looking like a uncurried horse dressed up: I dont know.
The boy was watching the bridge where it was mid-sunk and logs and such
drifted up over it and it swagging and shivering like the whole thing would go
any minute, big-eyed he was watching it, like he was to a circus. And the gal
too. When I come up she looked around at me, her eyes kind of blaring up and
going hard like I had made to touch her. Then she looked at Anse again and then
back at the water again.
It was nigh up to the levee on both sides, the earth hid except for the
tongue of it we was on going out to the bridge and then down into the water, and
except for knowing how the road and the bridge used to look, a fellow couldn't
tell where was the river and where the land. It was just a tangle of yellow and
the levee not less wider than a knife-back land of, with us setting in the wagon
and on the horse and the mule.
Darl was looking at me, and then Cash turned and looked at me with that
look in his eyes like when he was figuring on whether the planks would fit her
that night, like he was measuring them inside of him and not asking you to say
what you thought and not even letting on he was listening if you did say it, but
listening all right. Jewel hadn't moved. He sat there on the horse, leaning a
little forward, with that same look on his face when him and Darl passed the
house yesterday, coming back to get her.
"If it was just up, we could drive across," Anse says, "We could drive
right on across it."
Sometimes a log would get shoved over the jam and float on, rolling and
turning, and we could watch it go on to where the ford used to be. It would slow
up and whirl crossways and hang out of water for a minute, and you could tell by
that that the ford used to be there.
³But that dont show nothing," I say. It could he a bar of quicksand built
up there." We watch the log. Then the gal is looking at me again.
"Mr Whitfield crossed it," she says.
"He was a-horseback," I say. "And three days ago. Its riz five foot
"If the bridge was just up," Anse says.
The log bobs up and goes on again. There is a lot of trash and foam, and
you can hear the water.
"But its down," Anse says.
Cash says, "A careful fellow could walk across yonder on the planks and
"But you couldn't tote nothing," I say. "Likely time you set foot on that
mess, it'll all go, too. What you think, Darl?"
He is looking at me. He dont say nothing; just looks at me with them queer
eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. I always say it aint never been what he done
so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you. It's like he had got
into the inside of you, someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and
your doings outen his eyes. Then I can feel that gal watching me like I had made
to touch her. She says something to Anse. ". . . Mr Whitfield . .." she says.
³I give her my promised word in the presence of the Lord," Anse says. "I
reckon it aint no need to worry."
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