Thurso’s Landing - Poem by Robinson Jeffers
The coast-road was being straightened and repaired again,
A group of men labored at the steep curve
Where it falls from the north to Mill Creek. They scattered and hid
Behind cut banks, except one blond young man
Who stooped over the rock and strolled away smiling
As if he shared a secret joke with the dynamite;
It waited until he had passed back of a boulder,
Then split its rock cage; a yellowish torrent
Of fragments rose up the air and the echoes bumped
From mountain to mountain. The men returned slowly
And took up their dropped tools, while a banner of dust
Waved over the gorge on the northwest wind, very high
Above the heads of the forest.
Some distance west of the road,
On the promontory above the triangle
Of glittering ocean that fills the gorge-mouth,
A woman and a lame man from the farm below
Had been watching, and turned to go down the hill. The young
woman looked back,
Widening her violet eyes under the shade of her hand. 'I think
they'll blast again in a minute.'
And the man: 'I wish they'd let the poor old road be. I don't
like improvements.' 'Why not?' 'They bring in the world;
We're well without it.' His lameness gave him some look of age
but he was young too; tall and thin-faced,
With a high wavering nose. 'Isn't he amusing,' she said, 'that
boy Rick Armstrong, the dynamite man,
How slowly he walks away after he lights the fuse. He loves to
show off. Reave likes him, too,'
She added; and they clambered down the path in the rock-face,
little dark specks
Between the great headland rock and the bright blue sea.
The road-workers had made their camp
North of this headland, where the sea-cliff was broken down and
sloped to a cove. The violet-eyed woman's husband,
Reave Thurso, rode down the slope to the camp in the gorgeous
autumn sundown, his hired man Johnny Luna
Riding behind him. The road-men had just quit work and four
or five were bathing in the purple surf-edge,
The others talked by the tents; blue smoke fragrant with food
and oak-wood drifted from the cabin stove-pipe
And slowly went fainting up the vast hill.
Thurso drew rein by
a group of men at a tent door
And frowned at them without speaking, square-shouldered and
heavy-jawed, too heavy with strength for so young a man,
He chose one of the men with his eyes. 'You're Danny Woodruff,
aren't you, that drives the tractor?' Who smiled
And answered 'Maybe. What then?' 'Why, nothing, except you
broke my fence and you've got to fix it.' 'You don't say,'
He said laughing. 'Did somebody break your fence? Well, that's
too bad.' 'My man here saw you do it.
He warned you out of the field.' 'Oh, was I warned?' He turned
to Luna: 'What did I say to you, cowboy?'
'You say, you say,' Luna's dark face flushed black, 'you say
'Go to hell.'
' Woodruff gravely, to Thurso:
'That's what I say.' The farmer had a whip in his hand, a hotter
man might have struck, but he carefully
Hung it on the saddle-horn by the thong at the butt, dismounted,
and said, 'You'll fix it though.' He was somewhat
Short-coupled, but so broad in the chest and throat, and obviously
all oak, that Woodruff recoiled a step,
Saying 'If you've got a claim for damages, take it to the county.'
'I'm taking it nearer hand.
You'll fix the fence.' Woodruffs companions
Began to come in between, and one said 'Wait for him
Until he fixes it, your cows will be down the road.'
Thurso shook his head slightly and bored forward
Toward his one object; who felt the persecuting
Pale eyes under dark brows dazzle resistance.
He was glad the bathers came up the shore, to ask
What the dispute was, their presence released his mind
A moment from the obstinate eyes. The blithe young firer
Of dynamite blasts, Rick Armstrong, came in foremost,
Naked and very beautiful, all his blond body
Gleaming from the sea; he'd been one or two evenings
A guest at the farmhouse, and now took Thurso's part
So gracefully that the tractor-driver, already
Unnerved by that leaden doggedness, was glad to yield.
He'd mend the fence in the morning: Oh, sure, he wanted
To do the right thing: but Thurso's manner
Had put him off.
The group dissolved apart, having made for
a moment its unconscious beauty
In the vast landscape above the ocean in the colored evening;
the naked bodies of the young bathers
Polished with light, against the brown and blue denim core of
the rest; and the ponies, one brown, one piebald,
Compacted into the group, the Spanish-Indian horseman dark
bronze above them, under broad red
Heavens leaning to the lonely mountain.
In the moonlight two hours before Sunday dawn
Rick Armstrong went on foot over the hill
Toward the farmhouse in the deep gorge, where it was dark,
And he smelled the stream. Thurso had invited him
To go deer-hunting with them, seeing lights in the house
He hurried down, not to make his friends wait.
He passed under a lonely noise in the sky
And wondered at it, and remembered the great cable
That spanned the gorge from the hill, with a rusted iron skip
Hanging from it like a stuck black moon; relics,
With other engines on the headland, of ancient lime-kilns
High up the canyon, from which they shot the lime
To the promontory along the airy cable-way
To be shipped by sea. The works had failed; the iron skip
Stuck on its rusted pulleys would never move again
Until it fell, but to make a desolate creaking
In the mountain east-wind that poured down the gorge
Every clear night. He looked for it and could not find it
Against the white sky, but stumbled over a root
And hurried down to the house.
There were layered smells of
horses and leather
About the porch; the door stood half open, in the yellow slot
Of lamplight appeared two faces, Johnny Luna's dark hollow
Egyptian profile and Helen Thurso's
Very white beyond, her wide-parted violet eyes looked black
and her lips moved. Her husband's wide chest
Eclipsed the doorway. 'Here you are. I was afraid you wouldn't
wake up. Come in,' Thurso said,
'Coffee and bacon, it will be long to lunch.' A fourth in the
room was the lame man, Reave Thurso's brother,
Who said at parting, 'Take care of Helen, won't you, Reave,
Don't tire her out.' He was not of the party but had risen to see
them off. She answered from the porch, laughing,
The light from the door gilding her cheek, 'I'll not be the tired
one, Mark, by evening. Pity the others.'
'Let the men do the shooting, Helen, spare yourself. Killing's
against your nature, it would hurt with unhappy thought
Some later time.' 'Ah,' she answered, 'not so gentle as you
think. Good-bye, brother.'
They mounted the drooping horses and rode up canyon
Between black trees, under that lonely creaking in the sky, and
Along the coast-road to enter a darker canyon.
The horses jerked at the bridle-hands,
Nosing out a way for the stammering hooves
Along the rocks of a ribbed creek-bed; thence a path upward
To the height of a ridge; in that clear the red moonset
Appeared between murky hills, like a burning ship
On the world's verge.
Thurso and Luna stealthily dismounted.
They stole two ways down the starry-glimmering slope like
assassins, above the black fur of forest, and vanished
In the shifty gray. The two others remained, Armstrong looked
Toward his companion through the high reddish gloom, and
saw the swell of her breast and droop of her throat
Darkling against the low moon-scarred west. She whispered and
said, 'The poor thing may drive up hill toward us:
And I'll not fire, do you want to trade rifles with me? The old
one that Reave has lent you is little use.'
He answered, 'I guess one gun's as good as another, you can't
see the bead, you can't see the notch.' 'Oh: well.
The light will grow.' They were silent a time, sitting and holding
the horses, the red moon on the sea-line
Suddenly foundered; still the east had nothing.
'We'd better take ourselves
Out of the sky, and tie up the horses.' She began to move, down
the way lately climbed, the cowboy's
Pony trailing behind her, Armstrong led Reave's. He saw her
white shirt below him gleam in the starlight
Like bare shoulders above the shadow. They unbridled the horses
and tethered them to buckthorn bushes, and went back
Into the sky; but lay close against the ridge to be hidden, for a
cloud whitened. Orion and Sirius
Stood southward in the mid heaven, and Armstrong said,
'They're strange at dawn, see, they're not autumn stars,
They belong to last March.' 'Maybe next March,' she answered
Without looking. 'Tell me how you've charmed Reave
To make him love you? He never has cared for a friend before,
Cold and lonely by nature. He seems to love you.'
'Why: nothing. If he lacks friends perhaps it's only
Because this country has been too vacant for him
To make choices from.' 'No,' she answered, 'he's cold,
And all alone in himself. Well. His goodness is strength.
He's never set his mind on anything yet
But got it with a strong hand. His brother, you met this morning,
Is very different, a weak man of course,
But kindly and full of pity toward every creature, but really at heart
As cold as Reave. I never loved hunting, and he's
Persuaded me to hate it. Let him persuade
Reave if he could!' Armstrong said, 'Why did you come then?'
'Ah? To watch things be killed.'
They heard the wind
Flustering below, and felt the sallow increase of clearness
On grass-blades, and the girl's face, and the far sea,
A light of visions, faint and a virgin. One rifle-shot
Snapped the still dawn; Armstrong cradled his gun
But nothing came up the hill. The cloud-line eastward
Suddenly flushed with rose-color flame, and standing
Rays of transparent purple shadow appeared
Behind the fired fleece. Helen Thurso sighed and stood up,
'Let's see if we can't lead one of the horses down,
Now light has come, to bring up the corpse.' 'The . . . for
'The meat,' she said impatiently, 'the killed thing. It's a hard
'You think they got it?' 'Couldn't fail; but other years
They've taken two in that trap.' Nearly straight down,
At the edge of the wood, in the pool of blue shade in the cleft
The two men were seen, one burdened, like mites in a bowl; and
Helen with a kind of triumph: 'Look down there:
What size Reave Thurso is really: one of those little dirty black
ants that come to dead things could carry him
With the deer added.'
They drove a horse down the headlong
pitch; the sun came up like a man shouting
While they climbed back, then Helen halted for breath. Thurso
tightened the lashings under the saddle,
That held his booty on the pony's back, and said to Armstrong,
'That tree that stands alone on the spur,
It looks like a match: its trunk's twenty feet through. The biggest
redwoods left on the coast are there,
The lumbermen couldn't reach them.'
Johnny Luna, when they
reached the ridge,
Was sent home leading his horse, with the buck mounted. The
others rode east, the two men ahead, and Helen
Regarding their heads and shoulders against the sharp sky or
the sides of hills; they left the redwood canyons
And rode a long while among interminable gray ranges bushed
on the north with oak and lupin;
Farther they wandered among flayed bison-shaped hills, and rode
at noon under sparse bull-pines,
And so returned, having seen no life at all
Except high up the sun the black vultures,
Some hawks hunting the gorges, and a far coyote.
In the afternoon, nearing toward home, it was Helen
Who saw five deer strung on a ridge. 'Oh. Look.
So I've betrayed them,' she said bitterly. Reave said to Armstrong,
'Your shot: the buck to the north,' and while he spoke fired, but
Had raised his cheek from the rifle-stock to look
At Helen angrily laughing, her face brilliant
In the hard sunlight, with lakes of deep shade
Under the brows and the chin; when he looked back
The ridge was cleared. 'Why didn't you let him have it?
You'd such an easy shot,' Thurso said,
'Against the cloud, mine was among the bushes,
I saw him fall and roll over.' 'Be very happy,'
Helen said. 'He was hard hit, for he ran down hill.
That makes you shine.'
They labored across the gorge
And climbed up to the ridge. A spongy scarlet thing
Was found at the foot of a green oak-bush and Helen
Came and saw it. 'He was hit in the lung,' Reave said,
'Coughed up a froth of blood and ran down hill.
I have to get him.' 'It looks like a red toadstool:
Red scum on rotten wood. Does it make you sick?
Not a bit: it makes you happy.' 'Why do you come hunting, Helen,
If you hate hunting? Keep still at least. As for being happy:
Look where I have to go down.' He showed her the foamy spots
of blood, on the earth and the small leaves,
Going down a steep thicket that seemed impassable. She answered,
'Let the poor thing die in peace.' 'It would seem a pity,'
He answered, 'to let him suffer; besides the waste.' Armstrong
looked down and said, 'He'll be in the creek-bed.
I'll go down there and work up the gulch, if you go down here.'
'You'd never find him without the blood-trail,'
Reave answered. Then Helen suddenly went back and touched
the foam of blood on the ground, dipping four fingers,
And returned and said, 'I was afraid to do it, so I did it. Now
I'm no better than you. Don't go down.
Please, Reave. Let's hurry and go home. I'm tired.' Reave said
to Armstrong, 'That would be best, if you'd take her home.
It's only a mile and a half, help her with the horses, won't you?
Take mine too. I'll hang the buck in a tree
Near where I find him, and come fetch him to-morrow.' 'If you
want,' Armstrong said. Helen clenched
Her blood-tipped fingers and felt them stick to the palm. 'All
right. I'll do
What you've chosen,' she said with smoothed lips. 'Mark wins,
he said I'd be tired. But he was wrong,'
Opening her hand, regarding the red-lined nails,
'To think me all milk and kindness.' Thurso went down
The thicket; and Helen: 'Nothing could turn him back.
He's never set his mind on anything yet
But snuffled like a bloodhound to the bitter end.' They heard
Breaking below, and returned by the open slope
To the horses across the creek.
They rode softly
Down the canyon; Helen said, 'I'm not tired.
Do you ever think about death? I've seen you play with it,
Strolling away while the fuse fizzed in the rock.'
'Hell no, that was all settled when they made the hills.'
'Did you notice how high he held his bright head
And the branched horns, keen with happiness?
Nothing told him
That all would break in a moment and the blood choke his throat.
I hope that poor stag
Had many loves in his life.' He looked curiously,
A little moved, at her face; too pale, like a white flame
That has form but no brilliance in the light of day;
The wide violet eyes hollowed with points of craving darkness
Under the long dark lashes; and the charcoal mark
Across her slightly hollowed cheek, where a twig had crossed it
When they rode the burnt hillside. He said: 'I ought
ToVe gone with Reave, it doesn't seem fair to let him
Sweat alone in that jungle.' 'He enjoys toil.
You don't know him yet. Give him a blood-trail to follow,
That's all he wants for Christmas. What he's got's nothing to him,
His game's the getting. But slow, slow: be hours yet.
From here we can choose ways, and though it's a good deal longer,
There's daylight left, we'll go by the head of the hill: up there
you can see the whole coast
And a thousand hills. Look,' she said laughing,
'What the crooked bushes have done,' showing her light shirt
Torn at the breast, and a long red scratch
Under the bright smooth breast. He felt in his mind
A moving dizziness, and shifted his body backward
From the saddle-horn.
A curl of sea-cloud stood on the head of the hill
Like a wave breaking against the wind; but when they reached
it, windows of clearness in it were passing
From the northwest, through which the mountain sea-wall looked
abrupt as dreams, from Lobos like a hand on the sea
To the offshore giant at Point Sur southward. Straight down
through the coursing mists like a crack in the mountain sea-root,
Mill Creek Canyon, like a crack in the naked root of a dead pine
when the bark peels off. The bottom
Of the fissure was black with redwood, and lower
Green with alders; between the black and the green the painted
roof of the farmhouse, like a dropped seed,
Thurso's house, like a grain of corn in the crack of a plank, where
the hens can't reach it.
Cloud steered between;
Helen Thurso said 'What if the rut is a rock canyon,
Look how Fm stuck in a rut: do I have to live there?
And Reave's old mother's like a white-headed hawk.
Your job here's nearly finished, where will you go?'
'I haven't thought: all places are like each other:
Maybe Nevada in the spring.
There's work all over.' 'I,' she said, trembling; 'it seems cold
I hate the sea-fog. Now let's look east.' They had tied
The horses to the highest bushes on the north slope,
And walked on the open dome of the hill, they crossed it
And the east was clear; the beautiful desolate inhuman range
beyond range of summits all seen at once,
Dry bright and quiet and their huge blue shadows. Helen said
'He's down there somewhere. It's that deer's blood.
It made me drunk, it was too red I thought.
Life is so tiny little, and if it shoots
Into the darkness without ever once flashing?'
They turned back to the dome-top under the cloud.
'You're tired, Helen.' 'I'll not let the days of my life
Hang like a string of naughts between two nothings.
Wear a necklace of round zeros for pearls;
I'm not made that way. Think what you please. Shall we go down
'The cloud has come all around us,' he answered, seeing the distilled
drops of the cloud like seed-pearls
Hung in her hair and on the dark lashes. He turned to go down
to the horses, she said 'I have seen dawn with you,
The red moonset and white dawn,
And starlight on the mountain, and noon on burnt hills where
there was no shadow but a vulture's, and that stag's blood:
I've lived with you
A long day like a lifetime, at last I've drawn something
In the string of blanks.' She lifted her face against his shoulder
and said 'Good-bye.' He said 'I'm Reave's friend,'
And kissed her good-bye seeing she desired it, her breasts burrowed
against him and friendship forgot his mind,
With such brief wooing they stirred the deep wells of pleasure.
She lay but half quieted, still hotly longing,
Her eyes morbidly shuttered like the sleep of fever showed
threads of the white and faint arcs of the crystalline
Violet irises, barred across by the strong dark lashes; the night
of the lids covered the pupils,
Behind them, and under the thick brown hair and under the
cunning sutures of the hollow bone the nerve-cells
With locking fibrils made their own world and light, the multitude
of small rayed animals of one descent.
That make one mind, imagined a mountain
Higher than the scope of nature, predominant over all these edges
of the earth, on its head a sacrifice
Half naked, all flaming, her hair blown like a fire through the
level skies; for she had to believe this passion
Not the wild heat of nature, but the superstitiously worshipped
spirit of love, that is thought to burn
All its acts righteous.
While Helen adorned the deed with the
dream it needed, her lover meanwhile
Explored with hands and eyes the moulded smoothness through
the open clothing, reviving his spent desire
Until they were joined in longer-lasting delight; her nerve-cells
intermitted their human dream;
The happy automatism of life, inhuman as the sucking heart of
the whirlwind, usurped the whole person,
Aping pain, crying out and writhing like torture.
They rose and
went down to the horses;
The light had changed in the sea-cloud, the sun must be near
setting. When they were halfway down the mountain
The whole cloud began to glow with color like a huge rose, a
forest of transparent pale crimson petals
Blowing all about them; slowly the glory
Flared up the slope and faded in the high air.
through pale twilight
And whispered at the farmhouse door inarticulate leave-takings.
Helen went in; Armstrong unsaddled the horses
Ahd walked heavily up canyon and crossed the hill.
Helen said, 'Reave went after a wounded deer
And sent me home. He hasn't come home yet?'
Reave's mother said 'We've not seen him,' steadily watching her
Across the lamplight with eyes like an old hawk's,
Red-brown and indomitable, and tired. But if she was hawk-like
As Helen fancied, it was not in the snatching look
But the alienation and tamelessness and sullied splendor
Of a crippled hawk in a cage. She was worn at fifty
To thin old age; the attritions of time and toil and arthritis
That wear old women to likeness had whetted this one
To difference, as if they had bitten on a bronze hawk
Under the eroded flesh.
Helen avoided her eyes
And said to the other in the room, 'Ah, Mark, you guessed right.
I'm tired to death, must creep up to bed now.' The old woman:
'So you came home alone? That young Armstrong
Stayed with Reave.' Helen faltered an instant and said,
'No, for Reave sent him with me, wishing his horse
To be taken home. Mr. Armstrong stopped
By the corral, he was unsaddling the horses I think,
But I was too tired to help him. My rifle, Mark,
Is clean: I minded your words.'
An hour later the heavy tread
of a man was heard on the steps
And the fall of a fleshy bulk by the door, crossed by the click of
hooves or antlers, and Reave came in,
His shirt blood-stained on the breast and shoulders. 'I got him,'
he said. 'It seemed for awhile I'd be out all night.
By luck I found him, at twilight in a buckeye bush. Where's
Helen, gone to bed?' 'She seemed flurried with thoughts,'
His mother answered, and going to the door that led to the
kitchen she called, 'Olvidia,'
Bring in the supper.' 'Well, yes,' Reave said. 'I must first hang
up the carcass and wash my hands.' 'Olvidia,'
His mother called to the kitchen, 'will you tell Johnny: is Johnny
there? Tell him to fetch the meat
From the door-step and hang it up with the other.' Mark said,
'How far, Reave, did you carry it?' 'Two miles or so.
Rough country at first; I held it in front of me to butt the brush
with.' 'Why, what does it weigh?' 'Oh,' he said, 'a young
About Helen's weight.' 'You are strong,' his mother said, 'that's
good: but a fool.' 'Well, mother, I might have hung it
In a tree and gone up with a horse to-morrow; I shouldered it
to save time.'
'You've seen many green canyons and the clouds on a hundred
My mind has better mountains than these in it,
And bloodless ones.' The dark Spanish-Indian woman
Olvidia took Reave's empty plate and the dish,
And Mrs. Thurso said, 'Reave, you've big arms,
And ribs like a rain-barrel, what do they amount to
If the mind inside is a baby? Our white-face bull's
Bigger and wiser.' 'What have I done?' 'I'll never say
Your young Helen's worth keeping, but while you have her
Don't turn her out to pasture on the mountain
With the yellow-haired young man. Those heavy blue eyes
Came home all enriched.' Reave laughed and Mark said bitterly,
'Mother, that's mean.
You know her too well for that. Helen is as clear as the crystal
sky, don't breathe on her.' 'You,' she answered fondly.
Reave smiled, 'I trust Rick Armstrong as I do my own hand.'
'It shames my time of life,'
She answered, 'to have milky-new sons. What has he done for you
To be your angel?' 'Why,' he said, 'I like him.' 'That's generous,
And rare in you. How old is he?' 'My age. Twenty-four.'
'Oh, that's a better reason to trust him.' 'Hm?' 'You're the
'That's no reason.' 'No,' she answered.
Toward noon the next day
Helen was ironing linen by the kitchen stove,
A gun-shot was heard quite near the house, she dropped the iron
And ran outdoors and met Mark. 'What was that shot?' 'Don't
go up there, Helen.' 'Why not, why not,' she stammered,
'Why not,' the flush of the stove-heat graying on her cheek.
'Reave has put poor old Bones out of pain.' 'Oh, that!'
Laughing and trembling, 'Your funeral face. I thought something
had happened to someone. Let the old dog sleep.'
She went up hill to the screen of seawind-stunted laurel and oak,
where Reave was already spading
Dust into the gape of a small grave. 'You've done for poor old
Bones, have you? You knew I loved him,
So you took him off.' 'A pity you came just now, Helen. He
died in a moment. If we'd used this mercy
Two or three months ago we'd have saved pain.' She answered,
quivering with anger, 'You do it on the sly
And call it mercy. Ah, killing's your pleasure, your secret vice.'
'I'll wish you sunnier pleasures: and a little
Sense in your head: he was made of miseries: you've seen him plead
To be helped, and wonder at us when the pain stayed.
I've helped him now.' 'Will you do as much for yourself
When life dirties and darkens? Your father did.'
'No, I will not,' he said, shovelling the dust.
'What's that said for? For spite?' 'No, Reave.
I was wondering. For I think it's reasonable.
When the flower and fruit are gone, nothing but sour rind,
Why suck the shell? I think your father was right.'
'Drop a little silence on him,' Reave answered.
'We may help out the beasts, but a man mustn't be beaten.
That was a little too easy, to pop himself off because he went broke.
I was ten years old, I tried not to despise the soft stuff
That ran away to the dark from a touch of trouble:
Because the lime-kilns failed and the lumber mill
Ran out of redwood.
My mother took up his ruins and made a farm;
She wouldn't run away, to death or charity. Mark and I helped.
We lost most of the land but we saved enough.'
'Think of one man owning so many canyons:
Sovranes, Granite,' she counted on her fingers, 'Garapatas, Palo
Rocky Creek, and this Mill Creek.' 'Oh, that was nothing, the
land was worth nothing
In those days, only for lime and redwood.' She answered,
'You needn't despise him, Reave. My dad never owned anything.
While I worked in a laundry and while I crated fruit
He ate my wages and lived as long as he could
And died crying.' 'We're proud of our fathers, hm?
Well, he was sick a long time,' Reave said, patting
The back of the spade on the filled grave; 'but courage might live
While the lungs rot. I think it might. You never
Saw him again, did you?' 'How saw him?' 'We used to see mine
Often in the evenings.' 'What do you mean, Reave?'
'Why: in the evenings.
Coming back to stare at his unfinished things.
Mother still often sees him.' Helen's face brightening
With happy interest, 'Oh where?' she said. 'On the paths;
Looking up at that thing, with his mouth open.'
Reave waved his hand toward the great brown iron skip
Hanging on its cable in the canyon sky,
That used to carry the lime from the hill, but now
Stuck on dead pulleys in the sky. 'It ought to be taken down
Before it falls. I’ll do it when we've done the plowing.'
Helen said, 'Does he ever speak?' 'Too ashamed of himself.
I spoke to him once:
I was carrying firewood into the house, my arms were full. He
worked a smile on his face and pointed
At the trolley up there.' 'Do you really believe,' she said, 'that
your father's ghost?' 'Certainly not. Some stain
Stagnates here in the hollow canyon air, or sticks in our minds.
How could too weak to live
Show after it died?' 'I knew,' she answered, blanching again
with capricious anger, 'you'd no mercy in you,
But only sudden judgment for any weak thing;
And neither loving nor passionate; dull, cold and scornful. I used
to keep a gay heart in my worst days
And laugh a little: how can I live
Where nothing except poor Mark is even half human, you like
a stone, hard and joyless, dark inside,
And your mother like an old hawk, and even dirty Olvidia and
Johnny Luna, dark and hollow
As the hearts of jugs. The dog here in the ground Oh but how
carefully you scrape the blood-lake
Had loving brown eyes: so you killed him: he was sometimes
joyful: it wouldn't do. You killed him for that.' He answered,
Staring, 'Were you born a fool? What's the matter, Helen?'
'If I had to stay here
I'd turn stone too: cold and dark: I'd give a dollar
For a mirror now, and show you that square face of yours
Taken to pieces with amazement: you never guessed
Helen's a shrew. Oh, what do you want her for?
Let her go.' She left him; and when he came in at noon
Spoke meekly, she seemed to have wept.
In the evening, in
Reave's mother said, 'Did that sand-haired young man
Find you, Reave, when he came this afternoon?
He didn't come to the house.' 'Who?' 'That road-worker,
Arnfield.' 'Rick Armstrong?' 'Most likely: the one I warned you
Not to pasture your heifer with.' 'He was here?' 'No,
Not here. I saw him come down the hill, and Helen
Went out to meet him.' Mark Thurso looked up
From the book he'd been reading, and watched his mother
As a pigeon on a rock watches a falcon quartering
The field beyond the next fence; but Helen suddenly:
'Now listen, Mark. I'm to be framed, ah?
I think so. I never liked her.' The old woman said,
'Did you say something?' 'Not yet,' she answered. Reave made
Noise in his throat and said, 'Let them alone.
No peace between women.
This morning I sent Luna over the hill
With one of the bucks we killed, no doubt my friend came over
At quitting-time to say thank-you: why he didn't find me's
Less clear, but watch the women build it between them
To a big darkness.' 'Not I,' Helen said,
And dipped her needle two or three careful stitches
In the cloth she was mending, then looked up suddenly
To see who watched her. 'If I'd seen him,' she said, 'I'd have
spoken to him.
I am not sick with jealousy of your new friend. But he was
probably not here; the old eyes that make
A dead man's phantom can imagine a live one's.' The old woman:
'When you saw him you ran to meet him; I sent Olvidia
To see if the speckled hen had stolen a nest in the willows. She
walked down there, what she saw amazed her.
I've not allowed her to tell me though she bubbles with it. Your
business, Reave: ask her. Not mine: I'm only
The slow man's mother.' Helen stood up, trembling a little and
smiling, she held the needle and the spool
And folded the cloth, saying 'Your mother, Reave,
Loves you well: too well: you and I honor her for that. She has
hated me from the day she heard of me,
But that was jealousy, the shadow that shows love's real: nothing
to resent. But now you seem very friendly
With that young man too: she can't bear to yield you again, it
cracks the string of her mind. No one can fancy
What she's plotted with the kitchen woman . . .' Mark Thurso
said with lips that suddenly whitened: '7 met Armstrong.
I told him you'd ridden up the high pasture, for so I believed.
He asked me to thank you warmly
For the buck you sent: I forgot to tell you. I was with him while
he was here, and when he went back I hobbled
Some ways up hill.' The old woman moved her lips but said
nothing; but Reave: 'Here: what's the matter,
Brother? You were with me constantly all afternoon.' 'But an
hour,' Mark said. 'Hm? Five minutes.' Then Helen,
Looking from the one to the other: 'If I am hated, I think I am
loved too. I'd something to say . . .
Oh: yes: will you promise, Reave, promise Olvidia
You'll give her, for telling the perfect truth, whatever your
mother has promised her for telling lies: then I'm safe.
Call her and ask her.' He answered, 'She'll sleep in hell first.
Here's enough stories
Without hers in the egg-basket. Do you think it was Armstrong
you saw, mother? I trust Rick Armstrong
From the bright point to the handle.' Helen said, 'Ah, Mark,
You'd never imagine I'd be satisfied with that.
I have to be satisfied with that.' 'Why not?' Reave said.
And she: 'If it was nothing worse than killing to fear
I'd confess. All kinds of lies. I fear you so much
I'd confess ... all kinds of lies ... to get it over with,'
She said, making a clicking noise in her throat
Like one who has drunk too much and hiccoughs, 'only
To get it over with: only, I haven't done anything.
This terror, Mark, has no reason,
Reave never struck nor threatened me, yet well I know
That while I've lived here I've always been sick with fear
As that woman is with jealousy. Deep in me, a black lake
His eyes drill to, it spurts. Sometime he'll drill to my heart
And that's the nut of courage hidden in the lake.
Then we'll see. I don't mean anything bad, you know: I'm very
And wish to think high, like Mark. Olvidia of course is a hollow
liar. May I go now? I'm trembling-tired:
If you'll allow me to go up to bed? But indeed I dare not
While you sit judging.' She looked at Mark and slightly
Reached both her hands toward him, smiled and went out.
But in the little dark hallway under the stair,
When she hastened through it in the sudden darkness,
The door being neither open nor shut passed edgewise
Between her two groping hands, her cheek and brow
Struck hard on the edge.
Her moan was heard in the room of
Where they had been sitting silent while she went out,
An4 when she had gone Mark Thurso had said, 'Mother:
You've done an infamous thing.' 'They might play Jack and queen
All they please,' she answered, 'but not my son
For the fool card in the deck,' the shock of struck wood was heard,
And Helen's hushed groan: Mark, dragging his lameness, reeled
Swiftly across the room saying 'What has she done?'
He groped in the passage and spoke tenderly, then Reave
Went and brought Helen to the lamplight; a little blood
Ran through her left eye to her lips from the cut eyebrow.
The implacable old woman said 'She's not hurt.
Will you make a fuss?' Helen said, 'The wood of your house
Is like your mother, Reave, hits in the dark.
This will wash off.' She went to the kitchen and met
Olvidia who'd been listening against the door,
Then Helen, moaning 'I'm ringed with my enemies,' turned
To flee, and turned back. 'I will take it now. My husband, Olvidia,
Is ready to kill me, you see. I have been kind to you
Two or three times. Have you seen any unusual
Or wicked meeting to-day?' The Indian woman,
Dreading Reave's anger and seeing the blood, but hardly
Understanding the words, blanked her dark face
And wagged her head. 'Don't know. What you mean, wicked?
I better keep out of this.' 'A dish of water, Olvidia.
Be near me, Mark. Reave: will you ask her now?'
He said 'Wash and be quiet.' Helen said, 'Oh Olvidia,
Someone has made him angry at you and me.
Look in my eyes. Tell no bad stories . . . lies, that is ...
Did you see anything when you looked for eggs
In the willows along the creek?' Olvidia folded
Her lips together and stepped backward, then Helen
Sighed, dabbling her cheek with water. 'It hurts. I think
It will turn black.' Reave suddenly shouted 'Answer.'
Olvidia, retreating farther: 'What you want of me?
I find no eggs.' Mark said, 'Come, Helen, Oh come. I've watched
And can no more. Go up and sleep if you can, I'll speak for you,
to-morrow all this black cloud of wrong
Will be melted quite away in the morning.' Reave said, 'Don't
fawn on her, you make me mad. Women will do it.
But why praise 'em for it?' Helen, meekly: 'I am very tired and
helpless and driven to the edge. Think kindly of me,
Mark, I believe I shall be much hated. Your mother . . .
This is all. Light me a candle.' At the foot of the stair
She closed the door, and silently tip-toed through
The passage and the other room to the door of the house,
There pinched the wick, and praying for no wind
To make a stir in the house, carefully opened
The outer door and latched it behind her.
She traversed the hill,
And at the road-men's camp, plucking at the fly
Of a lit tent, thought momently it was curious
She stood among so many unrestrained men
Without fear, yet feared Reave. 'I must see Rick Armstrong
This moment: which tent?' They laid their hands of cards
Carefully face down on the packing-box.
'Why, ma'am, I can't say exactly,' but she had run off
To another lamp of shining canvas and found him.
'Let me stand into the light.' She showed her cut brow
A little bleeding again with hurry in the dark,
And the purpling bruise. 'What Reave did. Your friend Reave.
His mother spied and told on us. What will you do?'
'By God!' 'Oh,' she said, 'that's no good.
How could you keep me here? Borrow a car,
There are cars here.' He said 'I'll take care of you.' She
Beating her fists together, breathed long and said:
'If you choose to stand here and talk among the men listening
It is not my fault. I say if you and these men could stop him when
You can'tto-night, to-night, in an hour nothing can stop him:
he'd call the sheriff to-morrow and have me
Like a stolen cow, nothing but ridiculous, a mark for children to
hoot at, crying in my hair, probably
Led on a rope. Don't you know him? I do. Oh my lover
Take me to the worst hut at the world's end and kill me there,
but take me from here before Reave comes.
I'd go so gladly. And how could you bear to face him, he thought
you his faithful friend, for shame even?
Oh hurry, hurry!'
In the desert at the foot of sun-rotted hills
A row of wooden cabins flanks a gaunt building
Squatted on marbly terraces of its own excrement,
Digested rock from which the metal has been sucked,
Drying in the rage of the sun. Reave Thurso stopped
At the first cabin, a woman came out and pointed;
He went to the farthest cabin, knocked, and went in.
'Well, Helen. You found a real sunny place.' Opening the door
She'd been a violet-eyed girl, a little slatternly
But rich with life; she stood back from the door
Sallow, with pinched nostrils and dwindled eyes,
As if she had lost a fountain of blood, and faintly
Whispering 'I knew you.' Reave looked about him like one
Attentively learning the place, and Helen said
'I never hoped that you wouldn't come at last,
It seemed a kind of blood-trail for you to follow.
And then I knew you were tardy and cold of course and at last
You'd come at last, you never give up anything,
How did you track us at last?' 'Oh,' he laughed, 'Time and I.
He's at work?' 'Yes.' 'If you wanted to hide
You'd have got him to change his name.' 'I begged him to,' she
Suddenly weeping, 'so many times.' 'Don't cry, don't cry.
You know that I'll never hurt you. Mark loves you too, he's been
very lonely. He wanted me to let you go,
But that was nonsense. He's been sick since you went away. Do
you remember the rose-bush you made me buy
That time in Salinas? Mark's watered it for you, sick or well,
Every day, limping around the house with a pail of water spilling
on his poor ankle-joint,
He'll be glad to see you again. Well, pack your things.' She gathered
Her blanked face to some show of life. 'Look around at this
country. Oh Reave. Reave. Look. I let him
Take me here at last. And he hasn't been always perfectly kind:
but since I’ve been living with him I love him . . .
My heart would break if I tried to tell you how much. I'm not
ashamed. There was something in me that didn't
Know about love until I was living with him. I kissed him, when
he went back to work this noon.
I didn't know you were corning; forgot you were coming sometime.
See how it is. No: I understand:
You won't take me.' He, astonished: 'Not take you? After hunting
you a whole year? You dream too much, Helen.
It makes you lovely in a way, but it clouds your mind. You must
distinguish. All this misfortune of yours
Probably . . .' 'Oh God,' she said, shuddering,
'Will you preach too? First listen to me: I tell you all the other
joys I’ve ever known in my life
Were dust to this . . . misfortune; the desert sun out there is a
crow's wing against the brightness of this . . .
Misfortune: Oh I didn't mean, dear,
To make you angry.' She was suddenly kneeling to him and
pressed her face
On his hard thigh: 'I know Pve been wicked, Reave.
You must leave me in the dirt for a bad woman: the women here
See the marks of it, look sidelings at me.
I'll still believe you used to love me a little,
But now of course
You wouldn't want for a wife ... a handkerchief
You lost and another man picked me up and
Wiped his mouth. Oh there may have been many
Other men. In a year: you can't tell.
Your mother is strong and always rightly despised me.
She'd spit on me if she saw me now. So now
You'll simply cast me off; you're strong, like your mother,
And when you see that a thing's perfectly worthless
You can pick it out of your thoughts. Don't forgive me. I only
Pray you to hate me. Say 'She's no good. To hell with her!
That's the mercy I pray you for.' He said hastily, 'Get up,
This is no theater. I intend to take you back, Helen,
I never was very angry at you, remembering
That a. woman's more like a child, besides you were muddled
With imaginations and foolish reading. So we'll shut this bad year
In a box of silence and drown it out of our minds.' She stood
away from him toward the farther wall
With a sharp white face, like a knife-blade worn thin and hollow
with too much whetting, and said, turning her face
Toward the window, 'How do I know that he can compel me?
He can torment us, but there's no law
To give me to him. You can't take me against my will. No: I
won't go. Do you think you're God,
And we have to do what you want?' He said, 'You'll go all
right.' She, laughing, 'At last you've struck something
Stiffer than you. Reave, that stubborn will
Is not strength but disease, I've always known it, like the slow
You hear about, that turns a man's flesh to bone,
The willing muscles and fibers little by little
Grow hard and helpless, at last you can't dent them, nothing will move,
He lands in a tent beside the circus, with a painting of him
Over the door and people pay ten cents
To see the petrified man: that's your stubbornness,
Your mind sets and can't change, you don't go on
Because you want to but because you have to, I pity you,
But here you're stopped.' Suddenly she trembled and shrank
little again. '7f you could take me
I'd stab you in bed sleeping.' 'You know,' he answered,
'You're talking foolishness. I have to see Armstrong before we go,
When he quits work, I guess there's a couple of hours, but you'd
best get ready.' 'Why must you see ... Rick?'
Reave made no answer, Helen covertly watched him, slowly the
metal temper failed from her face.
'I'll go,' she said faintly, 'and tell him.' 'You'll stay here.' 'Reave?
Reave. You said you weren't angry.' 'Not at you. If I'd anyone
To help me, I'd send you off first. Walked around like a man,
Was a male bitch . . .' 'I led him, I called him, I did it.
It's all mine.' 'What?' 'The blame, the blame, the blame,
I planned it, all mine, I did it, Reave.' A white speck glittered
At the commissure of his lips, he licked his lips
As if he were thirsty and said difficultly, 'I've had a
Year to think about it: have to have relief, you're
Let off, keep still.' She felt his eyes
Craftily avoiding hers, and something monstrous in him moulding
the mass of his body to a coarsened
More apelike form, that a moment appeared and then was
cramped back to human: her image-making mind beheld
Her lover go under the hammers of this coarse power, his face
running thick blood turn up at last
Like a drowning man's, before he went down the darkness, all his
gay bravery crushed made horrible submission:
With any warning or whatever weapons he'd be like a bird in a
dog's mouth, Reave had all the strength,
Would fight foul, with all means and no mercy: 'Oh, Oh, take
me with you
If you want me, but now. Before he comes.
How could I look at him again if I'm going to leave him? You
That's too much to ask me, to stand between you
Like a cow between the brown bull and the white one.
In spite of all I'm not so ... shameless as ...
You think.' He made a questioning noise, 'Hm?' and she thinking
He'd failed to hear: 'I'll go and live with you
If you'll take me now. I can't face Rick, not wait for Rick,'
She said, weaving and parting the fingers
Of her two supplicant hands. She essayed more words,
But only the lips and no voice made them, then again
Breath filled the words, 'I've done wickedly, I'm sorry.
I will obey you now.' His eyes were hidden
While he considered, all at once he said joyfully
'Pack then.' 'Me, not my things: there's nothing.' 'Then come.'
She followed him; suddenly in the doorway she dropped
And kissed the threshold.
Thurso watched and said nothing;
She got up and walked at his side in the hot white dust by the
row of small cabins,
The wood of their doors and walls was worn to the look of seadrift
by the desert sand-scour. Suddenly Helen
Laughed like the bitter crying of a killdeer when someone walks
near the nest, 'My God, Reave, have you come for me
In the old wreck of a farm-truck, will it still run?' 'What else?
We haven't got rich, we haven't bought cars
While I've been away from home hunting you.' 'The pigs and
I,' she cried shrilly. Reave nodded, and went to the door
Of the last cabin, and said to the woman to whom he had spoken
before: 'I'm taking my wife home.
This woman's my wife. When Armstrong comes, tell that bastard
We're going west. He's got a car.' Helen cried, 'Oh, cheat, cheat,
Will you tole him after you?' He said heavily. 'What do you mean?
Come on,' and so holding her wrist that the bones ached
Drew her to the car. She had yielded and was subject to him,
She could imagine no recourse, her mind palsied
Like the wrist-clenched hand.
After twenty miles he turned
The carbureter-connection, slyly regarding
His seat-mate, she fogged with misery observed nothing.
The engine went lame, 'What's the matter?' he said, turning
The carbureter-connection; the engine stalled.
He lifted the hood and made the motions of helplessness,
Looking up sometimes at Helen, who sat in the dust on the high
seat on the folded blanket,
Her face in her hands. 'We're stuck here,' Thurso said. 'Well,
we have water.' She dropped her hands from her face
And stared at the road ahead; then she began to see the desert
about them, the unending incandescent
Plain of white dust, stippled with exact placing of small gray
plants, each tuft a painfully measured
Far distance from every other and so apparently forever, all
wavering under the rage of the sun,
A perfect arena for the man's cruelty; but now she was helpless.
Still Armstrong failed to come; Helen awoke again
From blind misery, and watched Reave's nerves
Growing brittle while the sun sailed west. He babbled childlike
About cattle and pastures, things unreal, unimaginable,
In the white anguish here; his hands quivered,
And the sun sank.
In the night Helen revived
Enough to make action appear possible again.
She crept stealthily away in the starry darkness
Thinking Reave slept; when he spoke she tried to run,
Her thighs and calves were like hollow water, he followed
And brought her back through the vast unnatural pallor of the night,
Rough-handed, but only saying 'You're too restless.' She writhed
her hands together like bitter flames and lay down
On the spread blanket. After while she lay face upward. Those
foam-bubbles on the stale water of night
Were floating stars, what did it matter, which of two men?
Yesterday the one had been lovely and the other
Came in like ugly death, but difference had died. Rick Armstrong
must have made some ridiculous plan
For heading them off or else he'd have come. Perhaps he thought
she went willingly. Why not? 'I go with you willingly,'
She said aloud, 'dear, do you hear me? I've shot my load of
feeling, there's nothing left in the world
Worth thinking twice. We'll crawl home to our hole.'
He answered, 'I can't believe he's a coward: he'll come in the
morning.' 'I dread death
More than your mother's eyes,' she answered. 'I'm the coward
or I'd kill myself. Dear, I fear death
More than I hate this dishwater broth of life. A bowlful a day, O
God! Do the stars look
Like lonely and pretty sparkles when you look up?
They look to me like bubbles of grease on cold
Dishwater.' He said, 'Sleep, you’ll feel better.' He heard her
And twisting her body on the sand while the night waned.
He got up and stood beside her and said anxiously,
'I was to blame too, Helen. Part of the blame
Is mine, Helen. I didn't show enough love,
Nor do often enough
What women want. Maybe it made your life
Seem empty. It seems ... it seems to me it wouldn't be decent
To do it just now: but I'll remember and be
Better when we get home.' She said, 'O God! Fool, fool,
A spoonful a night. Your mother was lying to you.
She knows better.'
In the morning
Thurso waited two hours from sunrise;
They had nothing to eat; Helen endured her headache, and the
Blared from the east. Reave greased the joints of the truck.
When one of those long gray desert lizards that run
With heads raised highly, scudded through the white sand,
He flung the wrench suddenly and broke its back
And said 'He won't come then. My God, Helen,
Was he tired of you? He won't come.' She watched her husband
Pick up the wrench and batter that broken life,
Still lifting up its head at him, into the sand. He saw the yellow
Grains of fat in the red flesh and said,
'Come here, Helen. Yellow you see, yellow you see.
Your friend makes us all vile.' She understood
That 'yellow' meant cowardly, and that this was Armstrong
Battered to a cake of blood.
They drove west
Through the white land; the heat and the light increased,
At length around a ridge of ancient black lava
Appeared a place of dust where food could be bought, but Helen
Would eat nothing. In the evening they came
Among fantastic Joshua-trees to a neat
Framed square of cabins at the foot of a mountain
Like a skeleton; seeing Helen so white and sick,
And the motor misfiring, Reave chose to lodge at this camp.
He'd tinker the engine while there was daylight. He found the timer
Choked up with drift of the desert; having washed it with gasoline
and heard the cylinders
Roar cheerfully again, he returned to Helen.
She was not in the cabin,
But sat with chance companions on a painted bench under the
boughs of one of those reptilian trees
Near the camp entrance; no longer white and morose, her face
was flushed, her eyes sparkling with darkness
In the purple evening that washed the mountain. Before he came
she was saying, 'My husband just doesn't care
What anyone thinks: he said, all right, if I wanted to see the
desert, but he wouldn't take either one
Of our new cars to be spoiled, he'd drive the old farmtruck . . .'
Seeing Reave approaching, greased black to the elbows, 'Oh, Oh,
What's he been doing? Oh: it's black, I think? Dear, I felt better
When the sun went down.' He, staring at her companions:
'That's good.' 'They call it desert fever,' she stammered.
'The heat's the cause.' She stood up, giggling and swaying.
'Was nearly exhausted, they gave me a little medicine.
Nice people.' 'What did you give her?' 'She begged for a tablespoonful,'
the old woman answered, 'Texas corn-whiskey.
Are you going west?' Helen said gravely, 'A spoonful a night:
O God!' 'She's eaten nothing,' Reave said,
'Since yesterday. Come and lie down, Helen.' She obeyed, walking
unsteadily beside him, with terrified eyes.
'Dear, please don't touch me, your hands are terrible,' she said.
'They think you killed him.'
He made her lie down on the bed while he washed himself.
She wept and said, 'I always make friends easily.
I used to be full of joy. Now my wishes
Or your own soul will destroy you when you get home.
I'd give my life to save you.' He groaned angrily,
But she was unable to be silent and said:
'I think you're even worse hurt than I am. Were you ever on a ship?
This place is like a ship, everything smells
In spite of neatness, and I am desert-sick.
Oh, Reave, I never dreamed that you'd be deep-wounded.
Forgive me dear.' He violently: 'Lick your own sores.
The man was my friend and that degrades me: but you’ve
Slept with him. You couldn't help but have learned him
In a year's familiar life and I've been thinking
That whores you, because no woman can love a coward,
And still you stayed . . .' 'For his money, for his money you know,'
She answered through chattering teeth, 'and the fine house
You found me in among the rich gardens, the jewels and furs,
Necklaces of pearls like round zeroes, all these hangings of gold
That make me heavy . . .' 'Ah,' he said, 'be quiet.' He went
out, and returning after a time with a tray of food
Lighted the lamp and cut meat in small bites and forced her to
eat. 'Dear,' she mourned, 'I can't swallow
Though I chew and chew. The rocking of the ship and the hot
smell close up my throat. Oh be patient with me.
When we land I'll feel better,' her deep-colored eyes moving in
sickly rhythm to the roll of the ship,
He said 'You're in the desert: an auto-camp by the road. Wake
up and eat.' She sat up on the bed
And looked anxiously about the bleak lamplight, then took the tray
And obeyed his will. 'I thought you were my dad.
Once we travelled on a boat from the south
To San Francisco. I expect I saw from the deck the Mill Creek
mountains and never
Guessed,' she said, shuddering. While she ate she began to fear
That people who were going to die dreamed of a ship
The night before. The truck would be overturned
And crush her body in the sand like that lizard's,
A tire would have burst.
Against the black horror of death
All living miseries looked sweet; in a moment of aimless
Wild anguish she was unable not to cry out, and said:
'Ah, Ah, what have you done, tearing me from him? I love him,
Maybe he's cowardly or maybe he's only tired of me, but if he's
yellow to the bones, if he's yellower than gold,
I love him, you know.
If I were crushed in the sand like that lizard you killed, to a cake
of blood why not? for I think you'll
Do it sometime the sun would dry me and my dust would blow
to his feet: if I were dead in the desert
And he drowned in the middle ocean toward Asia, yet something
and something from us would climb like white
Fires up the sky and twine high shining wings in the hollow sky:
while you in your grave lie stuck
Like a stone in a ditch.' He, frowning: 'Have you finished?'
He took the tray and said, 'Have you had enough?'
'Never enough. Dear, give me back to him. I can't think yet
That you understand,' she said slyly and trembling.
'Don't you care, that he and I have made love together
In the mountains and in the city and in the desert,
And once at a Navajo shepherd's camp in the desert in a storm of
Playing through the cracks of the shed: can you wink and
All that?' 'I can't help it. You've played the beast.
But you are my goods and you'll be guarded, your filthy time
Has closed. Now keep still.'
She was silent and restless for a good while.
He said, 'You'll be sleeping soon, and you need sleep.
I'll go outside while you get ready for bed.'
'Let me speak, just a little,' she said humbly.
'Please, Reave, won't you leave me here in the morning, I'll
You're too strong for us, but, dear, be merciful.
I think you don't greatly want me: what you love really
Is something to track down: your mountains are full of deer:
Oh, hunt some bleeding doe. I truly love you.
I always thought of you as a dear, dear friend
When even we were hiding from you.' He was astonished
To see her undress while she was speaking to him,
She seemed to regard him as a mere object, a keeper,
But nothing human. 'And Rick Armstrong,' she said,
'I can't be sure that I love him: dear, I don't know
That I'll go back to him; but I must have freedom, I must have
If only to die in, it comes too late . . .'
She turned her back and slipped off the undergarment
And glided into the bed. She was beautiful still,
The smooth fluted back and lovely long tapering legs not
Nor the supple motions; nor that recklessness
Of what Thurso called modesty was any change;
She never tried to conceal her body from him
Since they were married, but always thoughtless and natural;
And nestled her head in the pillow when she lay down
With little nods, the tender way he remembered:
So that a wave of compassionate love
Dissolved his heart: he thought, 'Dearest, I've done
Brutally: I'll not keep you against your will.
But you must promise to write to me for help
When you leave that cur.' He made the words in his mind
And began to say: 'Dearest . . .' but nothing further
Had meaning in it, mere jargon of mutterings, the mouth's refusal
Of the mind's surrender; and his mind flung up a memory
Of that poor dead man, his father, with the sad beaten face
When the lime-kilns failed: that man yielded and was beaten,
A man mustn't be beaten. But Helen hearing
The 'dearest,' and the changed voice, wishfully
Lifted her head, and the great violet eyes
Sucked at Reave's face. 'No,' he said. He blew out the lamp,
Resolved to make this night a new marriage night
And undo their separation. She bitterly submitted;
'I can bear this: it doesn't matter: I'll never tell him.
I feel the ship sailing to a bad place. Reave, I'm so tired
That I shall die. If my wrist were broken
You wouldn't take my hand and arm in your hands
And wriggle the bones for pleasure? You're doing that
With a worse wound.' Her mind had many layers;
The vocal one was busy with anguish, and others
Finding a satisfaction in martyrdom
Enjoyed its outcry; the mass of her mind
Remained apparently quite neutral, under a familiar
Embrace without sting, without savor, without significance,
Except that this breast was hairier.
They drove through the two
deserts and arrived home. Helen went in
With whetted nerves for the war with Reave's mother, resolving
Not to be humble at least; but instead of the sharp old woman a
With yellow hair and pleated excess of clothing stood up in the
room; and blushed and whitened, anxiously
Gazing, clasping thin hands together. Reave said, 'It's Hester
Clark.' And to Hester Clark: 'Tell Olvidia
To count two more for supper; my wife and I have come home.'
She answered, 'Oh yes,' fleeing. Then Helen:
'What's this little thing? Why does it wear my dress?' 'She's
only hemmed it over,' he said, 'at the edges.
Have it again if you want, I had to find something for her.' His
mother was heard on the stair, and entering
Looked hard at Helen and went and kissed Reave. Who said, 'I
shall stay at home now, mother: Helen's come home.'
'Yes. How do you do.' Her red-brown eyes brushed Helen's
body from the neck to the ankles, 'I'll have them heat
Bathwater.' Helen trembled and said, 'How kind. There are
showers in all the camps: if you mean anything else:
Reave seems content.' 'Very well. He's easily of course contented.
He picks up things by the road: one of them
I've allowed to live here: to speak honestly
In hope to keep his mind off another woman: but that cramps
and can't change.' 'If I knew what I want!'
Helen cried suddenly. 'The girl is a servant here,' Reave said.
'I hate the spitefulness of women. The housework
Needed help when you were not here.' Then Helen: 'She's quite
sick I think: she'll have to clear out I think.
Yet something in me felt kindly toward that little wax face
In my old clothes. I came home against my will. Why isn't Mark
here?' The far door opened for Olvidia,
Unable to imagine any pretext for entrance, but unable to bridle
Of coming, to stare and smile from flat black eyes. Behind her
Johnny Luna was seen peering, but dared not enter.
Then Helen wondered, where was that thin little thing?
Crying somewhere? And Reave's mother said: 'Now you'll cut down
The old cable, as you promised, Reave. We're tired of seeing it.
You'll have time now.' He answered, 'Where's Mark, mother?
Helen just asked you.' 'I heard her.
Sitting under a bush on the hill, probably. Your wife's adventures
Stick in his throat.' Then Helen, trembling, and the words marred
By sudden twitchings of her lips: 'I'm not ashamed. No reason
to be. I tried to take myself out of here
And am brought back by threats and by force, to a gray place like a
jail, where the sea-fog blows up and down
From the hill to the rock, around a house where no one ever
loved or was glad. But your spite's nothing,
Pour it out, I'll swim in it: and fear Reave but not you, and maybe
after while . . . That's all. Reave, I'll go up
And change my dress before supper, if your ... if little wax-face
you know . . . has left me any
Clothes in the closet.'
She went upstairs; the others were silent,
Until the old woman: 'Ah why, why,' she said, 'Reave,
Did you have to bring back ... I know. You had to. Your mind
Sticks in its own iron: when you've said 'I will
Then you're insane, the cold madness begins.
It's better than weakness,'
He answered with shamefast look shunning her eyes, 'I must tell
Though it may seem strange: I love her, you know. Some accident,
Or my neglect, changed her; I'll change her over
And bring the gold back.' 'You talk like poor Mark. Oh, worse.
Mark at least feels disgust. A woman that can't it seems
Even have babies. . . . About the old cable:
He's been seeing lately . . . your father: the man who's dead . . .
Pitifully staring up at it in the evenings.
He broods on that. The shock of your disgrace I believe
Started his mind swarming, and he hobbles out
In the starlight. I wish you to keep your promise
And cut that ruin from our sky. It's bad for Mark
To remember his father; and I've a feeling
The memory slacks us all, something unlucky will clear
When that cord's cut. Don't you hate seeing it?' 'Oh, yes,
Like anything else that's no use. It'd fall by itself
Some winter. I'll cut it down. There are trees under it
That have to be saved. Mother, I won't ask you
To make friends with my wife: you're not to fuss either.
And don't prod her with Hester. We'll have some peace in the house,
Or I'll growl too.'
Mark's lameness appeared more painful than
formerly; Helen from the window seeing him
Limping across the dooryard, she went and followed. He stood
by the sycamore, under great yellowing leaves,
And Helen: 'You hardly spoke to me last night, though a year
had passed. Have I lost your love, my brother? I valued it.
I need it more than in happier times.' 'That . . .' he answered,
'Oh Helen!' 'Because I could hardly think how to live here,'
she said, 'without it.' 'I have no color of words
To say how dearly . . . When I seem dark: you must think of
me as a foolish day-dreamer
Whose indulgence turns and clouds him, so that he sees a dead man
Walk on the deck, and feels the ship sailing
Through darkness to a bad place.' She, astonished with memory:
'The ship, the ship?' 'You see. My foolish dreams
Twine into my common talk. Maybe it's my hearing at night
The watery noises and hoarse whisper of the shore that sets me
Into that dream, I feel the see-sawing keel, my mind tries darkly
ahead under the stars
What destiny we're driving toward. . . . Do you think, Helen,
a dead man's
Soul can flit back to his scene long afterwards?' 'Your father,
you mean? But I was lying in the scrawny desert,
A thousand miles from any noise of the shore. It scared me because
I seem to remember hearing
That to dream of a ship means death . . .' 'If that's all,' he
'If we both dream it. I, for one, shan't trouble
My survivors with any starlight returns, but stick to peace
Like a hungry tick.' 'Oh,' she said eagerly, 'hush.
It's wicked to talk like that.' He was silent, then said,
'Did you love him, Helen?' She clenched her hands, and turning
Her head from him, 'I thought you'd ask that. What's love?'
And laid her hand on the leaning pillar of the tree
To turn herself back to his face, to study no higher
Than the lean jaw and strained mouth, lower than the eyes,
And carefully said, 'Of course I loved him; but I believe
My shining terror of Reave was the cause.
For now that desert stalk's cut, the old root of fear
Seems aching to a new flowering. Why do I fear him? I know for
He'll neither kill me nor beat me, I've proved it: and I even
tricked him out of his vengeance, you know, he came home
With nothing but me. . . . Where did he get that Hester? No,
tell me after while. . . , Listen. I used to think
That the only good thing is a good time: I've got past that . . .
Into the dark. I need something, I can't know what it is.' She
thought in her heart: 'I know.
To humble your strong man, that's what I need.' And said: 'To
be free. He called me a harlot, Marie. I am a
Harlot of a rare nature. The flesh is only a symbol. Oh, can't you
Beaten back and forth between the two poles, between you and
She watched, that his lips moved like a plucked string,
So that she thought 'It can be done,' and said,
'The one pole's power, that I tried to escape: that strong man,
And have been . . . retrieved, and can't tell whether I hate him
Or what. The second, you can name better than I:
The power behind power, that makes what the other can only
Direct or destroy. See how wise I've grown. Dear: in the desert
I cried a good deal at night: it wasn't for Reave,
Nor for his mother! my eyelids rained in the dusty
Country where rain's not natural. I'd look up the night
And see the sharp dry stars like great bubbles
Blown up and swollen, full of most bitter rainbows,
Float on the wave of the world: it was for you
My tears ran down.'
She watched his mouth, in the thought
That if she stretched romance to laughter, or his doubting point,
She'd be warned by his lips: but Mark perhaps had not even
heard her; he said, 'I used to thank God
Whatever it is that's coming, Helen's not here. If even she's crying
in the night somewhere: she's flown
Like a bird out of the hands of our catcher. Now you've come
home! . . . Oh, at better times
I think my fears are only a flaw of the mind;
Or else that the dark ship driving to its drowning
Is only my own poor life: that might go down
Without a bubble.' She angrily: 'Reave at least
Is something solid to fear . . . You and your shadows!
I was going to make love to you, Mark,
All to spite Reave and because he bores me, but your nonsense
Has run mine out of breath. You've missed something.
Tell me about this . . . what's her name? Reave's wisp,
All eyes and hair.' Mark failed to answer; she looked
And saw his face fixed and anxious. 'What's the matter now?'
'Is that Reave?' he whispered. 'Exactly. What's in Reave
To make you dome out your eyes like a caught fish?'
'He's staring up at the cable, Helen! The old man stands in
That same place and stares up at the cable
Every night.' 'Soon to miss his amusement, poor ghost.
Reave's planning to take it down. Be sure when Reave looks up
He has a purpose.'
He approached and said, 'To-morrow morning
We'll cut it down. But the best trees in the canyon
Stand in the shadow of its fall.
I've planned a way to tie the cut end with rope
And steer it west in its fall, and I hope clear them.
They must take their chance.' He looked at Mark and said,
'We'll feel better
After the old advertisement of failure's down.
It's cobwebbed the canyon for twenty years.' He looked at
'We'll start a new life to-morrow.' She marvelled secretly
At the reasonless anger that ran through her dry nerves like a
summer grass-fire, and shrilly, 'You and I?' she answered,
'Or you and your . . . little floozie, that whittled match?'
He frowned, his temples darkened with the heavy muscle
Setting the jaw, he said in a moment: 'I've given Hester notice
to go. She's going to-morrow.
You're staying. So rest your mind.' 'Ah, Ah,' she said, 'be
proud of strength while you can. Cut the cable
And forget your father. Whatever fails, cut it down. Whatever
gets old or weakens. Send Hester packing
Because a bigger woman's brought home. If a dog or a horse
have been faithful, kill them on the shore of age
Before they slacken. See to keep everything around you as strong
As Reave Thurso.' And turning suddenly:
'Oh, Mark, tell me what's good, I don't know which way to
turn. Is there anything good? Whisper, whisper.
That mould of hard beef and bone never asks,
He never wonders, took it ready-made when he was a baby,
never changes, carft change. You and I
Have to wonder at the world and stand between choices. That's
why we're weak and ruled. If we could ever
Find out what's good, we'd do it. He'd be surprised.
What a rebellion!' She changed and said, 'Reave?
Let that girl stay a week; you might need her yet.
In any case I'd like to know her a little.
She keeps out of my way, I haven't had time.
A week or two.' He, staring: 'That's a sickly thing
For a man's wife to want. No. She's going
At the set time. If you can't tell what's good:
It's lucky I have a compass and can steer the ship.'
'Oh, Oh. That ship again?' she cried laughing,
'Maybe there's something in it, if even Reave . . .
Can you feel it straining through the dark night? Mark: you heard him:
He's a dreamer too. You'd never imagine it,
To see him stand there so fleshy, shaking his head
Like a bull in fly-time: if he dreams he'll fall yet. We'll try.'
She turned and went toward the house.
Reave said, 'What was all that?
There was a time when I'd have stared at myself
For bringing home . . . and letting it talk and talk
As if it had rights in the world. It's her colored abounding life
That makes her lovely.' 'She's tied to you,' Mark answered,
'Like a falcon tied up short to a stone, a fierce one,
Fluttering and striking in ten inches of air. I believe deeply
You're precious to each other.' 'Hm. I bear clawing
As well as anyone.' Mark, earnestly: 'Oh be good to her,
Not to let her be hurt in the coming time.'
'No more of that, Mark. You know these forebodings
Date from our time in France and the muddy splinter
That wrecked your ankle. You must make allowances.' He answered,
This rocked-in gorge would be the last place in the world to bear
the brunt: but it's not so: they told me
This is the prow and plunging cutwater,
This rock shore here, bound to strike first, and the world behind
will watch us endure prophetical things
And learn its fate from our ends.' 'Booh. We'll end well,' he answered,
laughing, 'the world won't watch.
When you and I toast long white beards and old freckled hands,
Like a little shrivelled apple by the fire between us
Still faintly glows, in the late evenings of life,
We'll have the fun that old people know, guessing
Which of us three will die first. I dare say the world
Will be quite changed then.' 'You're very hopeful. But even you
I think feel the steep time build like a wave, towering to break,
Higher and higher; and they've trimmed the ship top-heavy.
. . . Do you take it down to-morrow?' 'Ah? The cable you mean?
I told you: in the morning. You must all come and watch.
The fall will be grand. Those things have weight.'
Helen had gone
As if she carried news in her mind through the house to the
kitchen; there dark Olvidia
Stood big and ominous in a steam of beef boiling. 'Where's your
helper, Olvidia, the little mop
That pares potatoes?' She answered sadly, 'Is cabbage too.' 'I
say where's the elf-child,
The inch with the yellow hair? Ought to be helping you.'
'Oh, that? She going away.' 'To-morrow, maybe.
Where is she now?' The Indian rolled her dun eyes
Toward the open door of the laundry, and Helen passing
Looked all about among piled tubs and behind
An old desk of Reave's father's; the girl she sought
Stood up in a corner. 'What enormous eyes you have.
Why were you hiding?' Helen said. 'Oh no. I'd done my work,'
She answered plaintively,
'I was just thinking here.
I have to go away to-morrow.' 'Wearing my dress,' Helen said.
'Did you come here without any clothes at all?' 'He . . . Mr.
Thurso . . . mine were worn out,
He burned them up.' 'A handkerchief would cover you, though.
I don't believe you weigh ninety pounds
Without the weight of my clothes. Oh, you're welcome.
I think I'll take the prettiest one in the closet
And cut it to fit you like finch's feathers.
Is your name Hester? How can you bear Reave's weight,
Your body's the width of my arm?' The girl trembled
And twisted herself sidewise. 'Aren't you angry at me?'
'Oh no,' Helen said; and anxiously: 'I don't know. I'm lost.
Oh why should I be angry, nothing is worth . . .
Nothing, I believe.
Do you want to stay here? Don't you hate Reave? I do.
Madly.' The other with a begging whine: 'I'd work.
You are so kind.' And whispered, 'I might do all
The old Spanish woman's work, you could let her go.'
Then Helen suddenly, her lips withering
From the white teeth: 'Olvidia, come here. This scrap
Wants us to fire you: she wants to be with my husband:
Take both our places, how's that for treachery? Because she's
nothing earthly but a stack of hair and enormous
Gray eyes, thinks I'll stand anything. . . . Wives hate your
trade, don't you know that?' 'I ... didn't understand. I
Meant me to stay. I never felt safe before, but here I had my own
room and was warm enough,
And Mr. Thurso was never drunk.' 'Oh, that was something.
Where did you come from?' She looked at Olvidia's dark expressionless
face, and sidling a little nearer
To Helen for shelter: 'Hymettus, Nebraska: I lived with my
aunt Margaret, she was always punishing me
Because my uncle wouldn't let me alone. She was big and thin.
I ran away with a boy but he soon left me.
I tried to get rides west, people would keep me awhile
And turn me out. I think I was going to die
When Mr. Thurso saw me beside the road.'
'And loaded you into the farm-truck, ah?
Go on.' 'He gave me some bread and got some coffee
At the next place. I've been happy here. Oh,
What will become of me now?' 'I can't guess,' Helen said. 'My
Can't change his mind: so you'll have to go, whatever you and
I want. It jams in the slot; nothing
Will budge it after that, not with a crowbar. What will he be at
fifty, ah? How old are you, Hester?'
'Eighteen . . . nineteen.' 'I expect it's true: that stack of hair,
Olvidia, took time to grow.' Olvidia
Scowled and said darkly to Hester: 'You set the table.
It's time for dinner.' The girl moved quickly to obey, but Helen:
She stood then in white anxiety
Between the two, and suddenly began to weep.
Helen went near her and said, 'I want awfully
To know you, Hester. There's deep strangeness in your
Wanting to stay in this place. . . . Olvidia, I'm still your mistress:
Make us two sandwiches: set the table yourself.
Sandwiches: meat between bread.' She said to Hester:
'You're not false, I think. Helpless; perfectly;
A person without any will: mine's only hiding.
If I could just imagine what's good, or even
What's bad, you'd see the machine move like a ship.
You mustn't fear Reave, either.
He has a great will, frittered away on trifles,
Farm things, and you and me. And unable to strike a woman:
So we needn't fear to take food in our hands
And go and play on the shore. Yes, I command you.
That makes it easy.'
They walked under the alders that pave the
gorge, and Helen: 'Does it taste mouldy,
The meat of this house? But you must eat and not waste it or
you'll be sorry, for freedom, Hester, that's coming,
Is a hungry condition. . . . Where will you go to?' 'He says
I must go to San Francisco.' Helen looked, and laughed
To see tears in her eyes. 'You're crazy to cry about that. You
wouldn't stay in this wretched crack
Between two rocks? Come along, walk faster. Hester: that first time,
When you ran away with a boy: did you want a boy,
Or only you didn't dare go alone? Ah? I think that's
What makes you cry. It keeps grinding in my mind
That maybe I too ... just to break jail . . .
It would be a dirty discovery.'
The creek-bank path
Straightened a moment, so that a great aisle of bright breathing ocean
Stood clear ahead, and Helen: 'Hester: do you know what?
I'm going with you. I'll cut my hair to the bone
And borrow Johnny Luna's greasy black hat,
We'll fly away. I'll work for you, beg if we have to,
We'll try all the roads in America
And never quarrel; no disgust and no bullying. . . . Dear, it won't do.
You'd obey orders, we know: but look at these hips
And breasts of mine: these bulges in a man's blue-jeans
Would bulge the laws of nature, ah? My affections
Go with my build, we're talking froth, dear,
Only to poultice the inner bitterness: taste me and you'd call
Suddenly emerging at the creek-mouth beach
they breathed and stood still. The narrow crescent
Of dark gravel, sundered away from the world by its walls of
cliff, smoked in a burst of sun
And murmured in the high tide through its polished pebbles. The
surf broke dazzling on fins of rock far out,
And foam flowed on the ankles of the precipice. Helen looked
up, cliff over cliff, the great naked hill
All of one rifted rock covering the northwest sky; and said: 'It's
called Thurso's Landing. That's something,
To have the standing sea-cliffs named after you. His father used
to swing down the barrels of lime
From the head of that to the hulls of ships. The old wrecks of
rusting engines are still to be seen up there,
And the great concrete block that anchors the cable. I hope you'll stay
To see it come down. He said, in the morning. You'll ride the
mail-stage, I think:
Passes at noon. . . . Will you have the willow or the rock, Hester,
To undress beside?' 'What . . . what is it?' 'For a swim.
Didn't they have a swimming-pool in Nebraska?
Here's ours.' 'I can't. Oh, Oh.' 'You can duck up and down
In the long waves,' Helen said, laughing. 'Undress.
What do you think we came down for, to see cormorants?'
'The cold will kill me.' She answered, 'You by this rock
And I by that one. I've been ruled with dull iron,
Now I'll rule you at least.'
She went, and returned
In a moment, clean of clothing, but her small companion
Stood shivering in a worn cotton under-shift
And quavered, 'I'll go down like this.' Helen suddenly
Anxious and haggard, standing far off, with a screaming voice:
'I told you I want to see you: if I die of it.
Nothing can be worse than what I imagine.
Take off that rag.' She sobbing and obedient
Dropped it to the ankles and stepped out and stood
Furled like a sail to the mast, the straw-thin arms
Crossed on her breast, the hands hugging the tiny
Bones of her crooked shoulders in the golden under-spray
Of coiled-up hair. Helen stared and sighed, 'Nothing
But a white bony doll'; and turning to the sea: 'We're all monstrous
Under the skins, but nothing is real I think
Even if you can’t see it. Come on, poor thing, let's be launched;
Like running cream and the clouds gather.'
She went down and
Hester followed helplessly a few sad steps,
But when the steel chill of the wave ached in her feet stood still,
whining between hammering teeth, then Helen
Caught her by the hand and dragged her thigh-deep, still keeping
her face averse from her victim, like one compelled
To handle a loathsome thing she made her dance in the waves.
'Don't you love it, Hester, isn't this cold
More noble than the heat of a sleeping man? Here comes a foamhead.
I hate the man, yet I can hardly
Keep back my hands from holding you down and drowning
you; why's that, why's that?' while Hester childlike lamenting
Danced up and down as the seas deepened. Helen said, 'He killed
In the bitter desert, a beautiful youth
Yellow-haired like you, like you a wanderer. He flung a hammer,'
She said, seeing in her mind the running lizard
That Reave had killed, 'My dear friend fell, and that man
Who seems so quiet and controlled wallowed like a boar
Gnashing and trampling. There was no help anywhere
In all the abominable flat lifeless plain. When Reave stood up
A crooked red stump that had no eyes was dying in the sand,
instead of the blond beautiful body
I had often hugged in my arms. I heard it die. We travelled on,
blinded with thirst and sun,
And left it blackening; there are no tears in the desert,
Water's too precious there.'
A greater wave came, gathering
The mottled lit blue water in a bladed heap, then Helen braced
Her straight white legs, and lifted her little nearly fainting companion
over the comb of the wave,
So that the face was clear and the yellow hair felt but the spray.
In the trough behind the white wave
Helen shook her dark head, the water sluiced from her shoulders
And rose-tipped breasts. 'Fear nothing, Hester, I'm strong enough.
That deadly secret I told you: if you should dare
To tell it again, think what might happen: a hanging.
I might be freed. . . . Look up: there he comes now: can't live
without us.' She jeered, 'Look at him,
Stolid on the wild colt.' They were looking shoreward and a
wave covered them,
Then Helen drew her companion from the roaring foam and
carried her ashore.
Thurso's half-broken mount
Danced on the sea's edge in beaten terror, the thin black whip
streaked the brown flanks; and Helen Thurso
Like a myth of dawn born in the west for once, glowing rose
through white all her smooth streaming body
Came through the foam, and dragged beside her for a morning
star fainting and dull in the rose of dawn
That wisp of silver flesh and the water-darkened burden of hair;
She stood panting, unable to speak, and Thurso
Felt through his underconsciousness something morbid and menacing
In blue-shadowed silver foiled upon glowing rose, against the livid
Foam, the tongues of cobalt water, and the shark-fin gray
Rocks of the inlet, for now the sun was clouded,
All colors found their significance; then Helen wrestling for
'Ah, Reave. Here, Reave.
I knew you'd come, I left word with Olvidia.
Here's your wet honey: without my dress to pad her life-size
Compare us two.' His face wried and dark red,
He twitched the whip in his hand, choking with anger, and
'That's for your colt: not me you daren't. You haven't the
courage, simply you haven't the courage. This peeled thing'
She held Hester by the wrist not to escape 'this peeled and
breastless willow-twig here feared you
Until I told her . . . Strike, strike. Let her see you.' He shuddered
and blackened, laboring for words, and groaned, 'Go home.
Get on your clothes.' 'Now I’ve learned something,' she answered,
'that even a thin slip like this is a better lover
Than any . . . strike me, not her!' She let Hester go, who vanished
instantly, and Helen raised both round arms
To unguard her smooth flanks and said writhing, 'That whip of yours
Might do what no love nor strength . . . you've never let yourself go,
You've never ... I always bitterly feared you:
Give me cause. I could bear much. I'd not move nor scream
While you wrote the red stripes:
But there's no nature in you, nothing but . . . noble . . .
Nothing but . . . one of those predestined stone men
For women to respect and cheat . . .' She was suddenly weeping
And shivering; she leaned her face toward his knee
And the horse danced sidewise, with a dull clashing sound
Of unshod hooves in the pebbles, curving its body
Away from her and against the whip; she stood back,
Saying, 'He thinks I'm a monster out of the sea.
I'm not like . . . what you think. I'd have kissed your stirrup:
But that's not sense either.' She limped like an old woman
Across the gravel toward her clothing, bent over,
Stroking the sea-water off.
It is certain that too violent
Self-control is unlucky, it attracts hard events
As height does lightning; so Thurso rode up the canyon with a
little death in himself,
Seeing in his mind Helen's naked body like a red bird-cage
Welted with whip-stripes; and having refused the precious relief
of brutality, and being by chance or trick
Cheated of revenge on her desert lover, he endured small deaths
in his mind, atrophied spots, like mouse-holes
For the casual malice of things to creep in uncountered: so
shortened by refusal of a fair act, Thurso
Rode up from the shore in the frown of fortune. The cress-paved
pools of the stream, the fortifying beauty on the north
Of the rock rampart, and toward the south of the forested slope,
and the brave clouds with flashing bellies
Crossing the gorge like a fleet of salmon, were as nothing to him.
Once he jerked back the colt's
Bit-spread jaws to its breast and half turned back
To the shore again, but sat bewildered a moment
And snapped his teeth together and rode on, imagining
Some work to do.
He tied the colt by the house-door
And went through the house to a closet where hunting-gear,
Guns, traps and vermin-poisons were kept, he fetched some
pounds of bitter barley in the butt of a sack
To abate the pest of ground-squirrels. Returning through the
He met his mother and said, 'I've been to the beach, where they
were bathing. I'm going to the upper field
With squirrel-poison.' She said, 'In October?' 'Nobody else
Seems to have kept them down, in my absences.
Without some killing they'll breed armies in spring.'
'Mark isn't able to kill, Luna's too lazy:
I ought to have driven him: I didn't think of it, Reave,
Not being often in the fields.' He sighed and said,
'I wish it would rain. Mother, you have been right
To dislike that woman. I guess you're right.' She turned
Her reddish flint eyes from his face to the window,
Thinking 'What now has she done?' and saying, 'Nobody
Can praise your choices. Soft pliable men have the luck in love.
Maybe you can get rid of her without much trouble.'
He answered fiercely, 'Why did you let Luna
Bridle the brown colt while I was away?
He broke it with a whip: it was gente-natured.
Don't speak, mother, of Helen.
I never will let her go until she is dead.'
The old woman, sharply eyeing him again: 'If you could stand her
Under the iron skip when you cut the cable
To-morrow morning.' He looked down at the flat
White hair on the gray forehead and laughed doubtfully
Without knowing why. 'Our ship sails when I cut the cable.
He ought to be whipped himself: Johnny a horse-breaker!
The colt is spoilt. ... I must ask you, mother,
Not to interfere between mine and me.
Whatever you say about the stock or the fields
I'll see to very patiently: my wife is my own concern,
You must not meddle.' 'I have no desire to: as you know clearly,
In your mind's quiet time.' 'What does that mean, that I seem
excited: drunk, hm? Wrong, mother, quite wrong.
I've noticed in other autumns, when the earth bakes brittle and
lag, I become gloomy and quarrelsome,
But not this year. Cheerful. Squirrel-poison's
What I came in for,
To sow it in the fields above: they increased out of all bounds in
He left the house
And rode up the hill to the gray stubble-field, where many
ground-squirrels scampered away before him, or erected
Like pegs on mounds of dug earth before their house-doors
barked shrill warning to each other in the sunny air,
While Thurso, leading his horse about the borders of the field,
laid at the mouth of each burrow and carefully
In the little trackways light treacherous gifts; he mounted and
rode to the lower plowland. From thence returning
Above the path of dazzle on the burnished sea, he heard one of
his vermin singing its terror
In the first pain of death; its chirping voice was muffled in the
earth; and Thurso likewise went down
Out of the tension of the sun to the shadowed canyon. Where the
path from the hill
Joined one that wound into the redwoods, he saw his brother
Cross hastily and glance toward him, and labor down
Like a hobbled horse, the plunge and drag of lame haste.
Reave overtook him. Mark said, 'Look. Now he stands.
I was talking to him until he drifted away
As if a wind had come up. Reave, I beg you
Ride some way around, or he'll glide off again
And never tell me the rest.' Reave leaned in the saddle
And took his brother by the shoulder: 'Come up from dreams,
This won't do, you'll be sick again. These fancies
Are nothing if you don't yield.' 'Keep your hand off me.'
He said angrily. 'If you can't see him clear
Against the dark leaves of laurel: blindness is all.
He's wearing a different coat, and his tie-pin's
A small jade mask I never noticed before.
Ss: quiet; he's coming towards us. ... You told me, father . . .
Ah, Ah.' The deranged man's trembling excitement
Infected the ill-tamed colt, it sweated and shuddered
Between Reave's knees, with hard breathings
Cupping its ears toward the image that Mark imagined,
But the bit and the knees held it.
Mark, mournfully: 'Then death's
No nearer peace. No dreamlessness. That's bad.' He listened
And shrewdly answered, 'Harmonized: happier, happier?
I do wish to have faith: but your voice, father,
Sounds flat of happiness, and all the woes of the world
Seem hosting behind your smile. For God's sake tell me
The honest truth.' He listened, and said painfully,
'Make me sure of it. For if the blind tugging here
And self-contempt continue, and death's no peace,
It would be better to live forever . . . but best, best,
Never've been born.' He listened again and said,
'I'll try ...' Then turning to Reave; who sat like bronze,
Half his mind grieving to hear his brother's madness, and half
Busied with its own bitterness: 'He says to warn you,
Let his work stand. He says honor your father
That your days may ... I have it wrong. Shortened?
Shortened? Because death's better, I suppose.
. . . Not to pull down his work.' Reave laughed impatiently,
Saying, 'Tell that imagination I honor as much
As I can see of him: that's nothing. A perfect ground-squirrel,
Pop out of life for the first dog that barked
Into the shady earth. Come down to the house
And rest, brother. We owe him no duties
If he were really in the wind here.' He laid his hand again on
Whose loaded nerves suddenly discharging at the touch of restraint
struck his clenched bony fist
To the neck of the colt; that flew a leap sidewise and three
forward in the crackling brushwood, then breathed itself
With vertical flights and humped bone-rigid landings. Reave
hurt it with whip and bridle, he squeezed it tame
Between his two knees and angrily returned.
following his vision,
With no mind for this world, questioned it hard
About that other, he ate its fallacious answers
Together with his own doubts, like a starved man gulping
The meal with the weevils. 'Life's all a dream,' it said,
'And death is a better more vivid immortal dream
But love is real; both are made out of love,
That's never perfect in life, and the voids in it
Are the pains of life; but when our ungainly loads
Of blood and bone are thrown down, then the voids close,
Love becomes perfect, all's favor and immediate joy,
For then we are what we love.' So the false prophet
Sang sweetly, Mark was drunken with the easy ecstasy,
But while he listened his eyes kept wavering down
From the face to the throat of his vision, to that tie-pin
Tipped with white jade: that also had a face, carved
In the bright waxy stone, and was grown bigger,
The face was Helen's. The spectre sang that love
Must become conscious of itself and claim its own,
Mark's gaze drifting again to the stone at its throat
Found a cleft whiteness, for the carving reversed
Was now the beautiful fork of female thighs,
And the little hill: because the seer was virgin,
Knowing only pictures of women, he saw smooth white
What's rough in nature; but very smooth was too rough
For that intolerant sick mind. He fled back in terror,
'I can't. I can't. Oh, Reave, the cunning devil
Was making traps to take me, and I have conceived
A monstrous thing, poisoning the soul with flesh.
Either our dead hate us or the living devil
Was here instead.' Reave followed him and coaxed him home,
Where Helen stood in the room. They nodded to her
Like two effigies.
In the night Reave dreamed that Helen
Lay with him in the deep grave, he awoke loathing her,
But when the weak moment between sleep and waking
Was past, his need of her and his judgment of her
Knew their suspended duel; and he heard her breathing,
Irregularly, gently in the dark.
To save the redwoods under it, a rope was drawn
From the old cable, near the end to be cut,
To an oak a little higher than the cable-anchorage
And fifty yards to the west; so in their falling
The heavy steel serpent and the hanging iron skip
Should be deflected enough to miss those highest
And best-grown trees; the cable would be swung west
Before the inch rope should take the whole weight and snap,
Or, holding, be cut at leisure.
Reave had brought up a hack-saw,
But the blades broke on the strained steel; he wedged a wood block
In the rusty angle between the black cable and the brown concrete,
and worked against it with a slim file
Until four strands were gored through and his palm bleeding; he
pried the wires back and put Luna to work,
Himself walking aside, testing the guide-rope's tautness, and
What engines his father used to sling so great weight so high:
a man capable of that, blow out
In the first draught of bad luck like a poor candle!
In the open, in the fresh morning, high up the precipitous hill, his
spirit mounted to a kind of cheerfulness;
He had work to do; and now the sea-wind began, the wool-white
fog on the ocean detached clouds
Flying up the gorge of the gulf underfoot, so Thurso felt for a
moment a little laughably godlike,
Above the cloud-stream, hewing an old failure from the face of
nature. Down in the gorge, from the house dooryard
The cable and the skip could be seen high up the east, the rapid
mist-wreaths flowing in the sky below them
Like ice-cakes under a spidery bridge. Mark and his mother stood
on the path to the porch, she'd brought him
Out of his bedroom to watch the cable go down, hoping it might
cure sick thoughts. Hester and Olvidia
Stood, each alone, at some distance; but Helen came down from
among the trees. Then Mark remembering
His lawless vision trembled at her approach.
She came and said, 'Reave left the gate open,
And the horses were coming out when I happened past.
I never knew him to be forgetful before.
What was he thinking of?' They looked at her, Mark with eyes
That mutely implored pardon and fled away,
His mother made a carefully disinterested
Stare, and no answer. Helen stood wilfully near them,
And said, 'How long has it hung?' After a moment
Mark answered hoarsely. And Helen: 'Not more? Eighteen?
I thought it had always hung on these hills. I've seen it myself
Through an earthquake and some big winds, and that brush-fire
Three years ago. When Reave tackles it,
Down it shall come. Not the mountain-backed earth bucking like
a bad horse, nor fire's
Red fox-tail on the hills at midnight, nor the mad southeasters:
nothing can do it
But Reave Thurso, ah? That's the man we're measured against.'
The old woman considered her once more, smiled, and to Mark:
'An inch to the mile. Dear, are you tired standing?
Surely it will not be long now.' Mark whispered to her,
'Do you think he cares?' 'Who?' 'Father: his old work
Falling from the air at last.' 'We'll credit the dead
With a little more intelligence than to be troubled
About old iron.' Helen overheard her,
And out of the uneasy malice of unhappiness: 'Why credit them?
Very likely their minds like their spoiled bodies
Decay and go down the scale, through childish mutterings
To poisonous imbecility, and things that seem
Worthless to us might be to them like playthings
Precious to children, worth spite, all they've got left . . .'
The old woman felt Mark's anguish, and pushing by him
Stood against Helen 'weren't asked. When we're dull and want
We'll ask you to tell us your thoughts.' Helen retreated
With looks of startled innocence, 'Oh, how have I made you
angry? I was praising your son, the other one,
A man who masters earthquake, storm and bad horses, and has no
fear of the dead, and can drive a truck
With his wife in it; never reached out his hand for anything yet
but down it came. Look up: he's there
By the oak-tree, your strong man of this hollow, his feet on a
cloud. He'd never falter if a thousand ghosts
Were camped against him: but look at the size of the man: one
of those tiny
Black ants that come to dead things could carry him
With the oak too. Mark, you hate cruelty and killers: do you
know that he spent yesterday
Poisoning squirrels? Olvidia told me.
Poor little dusty monkeys whipped for my sins,
Dying in agony.' Mark answered hollow and slow,
'It has to be done, I suppose. Once he told me,
No poison no farms. He said that strychnin's
What civilized California: there'd still be grizzlies
And timber-wolves.' 'So all your sweet starts of mercy
Tune down to that meek end. Well, Mark: some time
San Francisco and New York and Chicago will fall
On the heads of their ghosts, so will that cable.'
A small bright falcon,
Invisible from the floor of the gorge, but Reave saw it
Above the cloud-stream, shot down the shiny sky
And lighted on the long cable above the skip,
Folded its wings, and veered its vizarded face
With sharp looks north and south. Reave thought, 'All the birds
Count on this ironware for as fixed as mountains,
It was here before they were hatched in the high nests,
Now I'll surprise him.' He said, 'Hand me the axe,'
For all the weight was hanging on a few cords
Of twisted wire. He lifted the dinted axe,
An old one for rough work. 'Stand clear, Johnny,' but the wires
Were not chewed deep enough yet; the edge nicked and bent them
Into the block, the whole cable like a hive of bees
Hummed over the gulf in the hanging air, and the hawk flew,
But the wires held. Reave looked at the bright crescent
Chipped in the brown axe-edge. 'The old man's tough;
But wait a minute.' An instant thought of Helen
Ran like a string of ants over his mind,
No danger of Helen standing under the skip
As his mother wished in her spite, but Mark's mind
Was not secure, better look down. The trees in the canyon
Hid the dooryard from here, and Reave went seaward
Some twenty paces along the steep of the hill
Through pale oak-leaves and russet ferns to see Mark standing
By his mother, Helen beside them, foreshortened specks
On the foot-worn patch of earth from the dark redwoods
And the globular golden puff of the sycamore
To the painted roofs of the house. Light mist flew over them,
Helen lifted the pin-point white of her face,
She looked like an incredibly small flower-stock
Stood by the cable with a file, and looking down
Saw the wires move like a scarred twist of worms
In the wood they were dented into, the all but invisible
Kinks printed in them by the steel edge straightening,
A nicked strand broke, then all parted at once
Very smoothly and instantly. He saw the scything rope
That ran from the cable to the oak-tree go west
And strike Reave standing, he was bent at the loins backward
And flung on the face of the hill.
Helen also saw,
But the others watched the great cable and the skip fall,
Obliquely in the draw of the rope, and the high oak-tree
Rush down the hill, the arched balks and crooked thighs
Of root in the scant soil on the near rock
Channeled with dry-rot, proving less masterful
Than one inch twist of hemp: so avalanchelike
The whole tree went down to the gorge, from its great yellow
furrow on the face of the hill
A long track of dust blew east, above and below
The racing clouds.
Thus the long trough and the covering sky
Of Mill Creek Canyon were cleared of that old cobweb,
The black moon over the gorge was down, and the mountain lips
Wiped clean. Helen Thurso ran up
Under the trees, through the oak-thicket, up the glacis
Of gray dead grass to the wreck of the oak-tree,
And up by the long furrow of the slide to Reave's
Body on its edge, dragged down and flung aside,
Like a red root cut by the plow and pitched
Forth of the furrow. He was not dead but crawling,
His belly and legs flat to the ground, his head
Lifted, like that lizard in the desert, and Helen saw the red ropes
Labor in his great shoulder, the shirt and the skin flayed off them.
Luna came down from above, then Helen's
Face frightened him more than his master's body, it was white as
lightning, eyed and mouthed with darkness, and the strained
Whined from the pit of her lungs like a bat's cries. She stood
Wavering, Reave crawled at her feet, the gorge glimmered below.
'God evens things. My lover in the desert,'
She gasped, 'crawled in the sand like that after Reave struck him.
A bushel for a bushel says God exactly.
What can we do?' Luna stood mute and helpless, the color of
his Indian skin like pale blue slate.
Reave crawled down hill between them; they watched the corded
strips of flesh in his shoulder reddening and paling,
And when he began to speak they were terrified. 'Must 'a' been
holes in my mind. Everything wrong. Won't die.'
Helen cried shrilly, 'How can we get you down, where can I
touch you?' 'Hell,' he said, 'you'll wash.' 'For your pain!'
She cried shrilly. He raised up his gray face, fantastically grown
smaller, hewn thin and focussed
On resistance, like a flint chip: 'Can't worsen it, fool. I don't die.
Drag.' They dragged him a little way
Down the hill and his mother came; in a flash Helen understood
whose face it was
That Reave's in pain resembled identically, and felt toward his old
Her heart move in a jet of loving compassion
Wild and lost like peering down a precipice,
She cried 'O mother!' The old woman went to Reave's head
And carried it against her breast. Helen and Luna
Carried his body, so they went tottering down;
His legs dragged in the feather-gray sage until Olvidia
And Hester came. On the steep of the slope came Mark
Hitching up on hands and knees for his lameness.
Helen thought, 'Both her sons crawling!' and cried shrilly,
'Get out of the way, will you. He's met somebody
Stronger than himself. Now I forgive him, now I forgive him.
I'd die for him.' The old woman glanced at her
With astonished hatred across Reave's head. 'You forgive him!'
Winter had begun and Reave was brought home from the hospital
In Monterey. Luna drove and Helen crouched
Beside Reave's mattress in the open body of the farm-truck.
She thought they all came by turns to ride in it: pigs and calves
to the butcher, Hester Clark from Nevada,
Herself from her lover and the desert mine, and again Reave
Thurso. All compelled; all unhappy; all helpless.
Clouds with dragging keels came in from the ocean, over Mai
Paso bridge a thin rain began,
Helen drew up the oil-skin over the blanket and said, 'I know
that you suffer pain day and night,
And now the jolting of the road is torture.' He was silent a time;
his face looked like his mother's. 'What of it?'
He said suddenly. 'Not to hide it from me, hidden pain's worse.
If you trusted me . . .' 'Do you think rat-gnawings
Mean much to a man who never any more ... all the endless
rest of his life lie flat like a cut tree . . .
Something to think about, ah? Have food brought and be wiped,
grow fat between a tray and a bed-pan,
While every shiftless and wavering fool in the world
Has walking legs. Never waste pity: the cramps and the stabbing
are my best diversion: if they ever ended
I'd have to lie and burn my fingers with matches. Well: day by
day.' She watched the small raindrops
Beading his rough eyebrows and hair, and said 'I'd willingly die
for you; I have not one grain of comfort
To answer with.'
At Sovranes Creek he began to peer about and
look up the mountain, but dimly
To be seen through leaning pillars of rain. 'You throw off the
oilcloth. What are you looking at, dear?' 'Pasture.
Pasture for cows.' Helen saw mist-green veils tapering up the
iron folds to the mountain-head,
The noble slopes and the crowning pyramid, and suddenly began
to weep aloud. He said, 'I can't help it.
You promised lightly to take the worse with the better. This is
I never will let you go until you are dead.
When you played the chippy I went and fetched you back;
You'll never try it again.' His focussed will
Forgot to control the outthrows of bodily pain,
He ended groaning, with convulsed lips. Helen answered,
'I wasn't crying. I wasn't crying for myself. I will not be
At last contemptible.' And lifting her white throat
Against the blue hills and rain: 'Nothing can break you,
It was only bones and nerves broke, nothing can change you.
Now I've begun to know good from bad
I can be straight too.' 'Hell,' he said, 'changed enough.
Dead legs and a back strapped in plaster. You'll never
Be as straight as this.' Helen shivered in the rain and said,
'What kind of a doctor was that, who leaves you suffering.'
'An honest old man. He told me plainly that the nerves of pain
Might live, and the nerves of motion were lost. He told me,
When I asked him, that I shall never ride, walk, nor even
Be able to stand.' She answered suddenly, 'I'll never leave you
In life or death.' He smiled and his lips whitened with pain. He
said, 'How's Mark?' 'Stark mad: all his gentleness
Gone into vengeful broodings. He thinks a dead man tore up an
oak on the mountain . . .' Reave frowned and said,
'Exactly. With my imbecility to spring the trap. Our fathers
build and cowardly slip out and we
Catch the fall. Not so crazy as you think. Do you think there's
anything beyond death, Helen? '
'Yes,' she answered,
'Worms.' 'And sleep, without pain or waking. Don't worry, I'll
never ease myself out by hand. The old dog
Stinks in that alley.'
Luna drove fast; Helen leaned on her hands
for balance in the swirling turn
Around the cape of the road over Garapatas and said, 'How did
he kill himself? I never knew.'
Reave sharply between tight lips of suffering: 'Leave that.' She
answered, 'He acted cowardly and you despise him,
But perfect courage might call death like a servant at the proper
time, not shamefully but proudly.' His mind
At civil war in the darkness forgot to control the animal tokens
of pain, he groaned and answered:
'Means your freedom, ah?' 'You are right,' Helen said, 'to expect
vileness in me: I will show you before the end
That I am changed.' 'I didn't mean that. Blind bitterness. But I
mean to stick it out, you know, and there's tempting
Too sweet to be patient with. I say damn quitters.'
farm-truck, with its dull-smoldering sparks of sad life,
Ran swiftly on south the wavering and twisted road on the steep
foot of the mountain sea-wall. No life
Ought to be thought important in the weave of the world, whatever
it may show of courage or endured pain;
It owns no other manner of shining, in the broad gray eye of the
ocean, at the foot of the beauty of the mountains
And skies, but to bear pain; for pleasure is too little, our inhuman
God is too great, thought is too lost.
It drove above the long crescent beach toward Palo Colorado,
That is lined with lonely splendor of standing wind-carven rocks,
like a chariot-racetrack adorned with images,
Watched by the waving crowds and clamor of the sea, but there
are no chariots. Thurso's Landing
Stood heavy-shouldered in the south beyond.
After some days
and nights Reave called for Luna.
Helen fetched him, Reave instructed him to choose two fence-rails
And whittle handles on the ends, and nail cross-pieces
To make a stretcher. An old tarpaulin was cut
For canvas, which Helen sewed over and bound with fishline
Between the two rails. Reave had thought carefully,
There was no reason for being jailed in the house,
There were things he was bound to bear, that was not one of them.
Helen and Olvidia each holding a handle,
And Luna at the other end, carried him forth
Heavily, of fantastic shape and weight
With the plaster girdle about his loins: like a stone man,
Petrified man, was echoing in Helen's mind
While she labored with the weight, 'Does everything I dream
They laid him on a low bank near the corral,
Where he could turn his head and at times
See horses in the muddy enclosure. Or see tall redwoods,
And if he wished, the long narrow canyon sky,
Reminding him what its clearance had cost.
One day that Helen
Was bringing his lunch from the house, she saw Mark
Waiting in her path; she went about him to avoid him,
Feeling unable at length to hear his troublesome
Mysteries with patience, and approached Reave
An unusual way, unseen and silently, on the new grass
Around a thicket. She saw the whitened knuckles
Of his heavy-boned hands over his breast,
One clutching the other, and then the fists beaten together
Like stones, and heard a high helpless moaning. She stole back
And broke through the branches into her accustomed path,
To go to him lying quiet and watching stolidly
While she came near. She trembled and set the tray on the ground,
And said, 'May I shift the pillows under you?' He answered,
rolling his head,
'I can shift them. Look here.' The bluish bruised look of his
face darkened, that the gray eyes
Looked white in it, his thick neck swelled; he was raising himself
upward with prodigious pain and effort by the thrust
Of his elbows backward against the earth, saying harshly, 'I am
not helpless.' He clutched his hands in the soil
And slowly with immobile face and no groan lay down. She felt
in her breast like the rush of a big bird
Flying from a covert and the threshing wings: 'If I'd never been
here,' she said, 'nothing would have been the same.'
She knew that she ought to be silent, she could not cease, crying
'You'd not be hurt, you'd be riding on the hill. I wish I had died
in misery before you saw me,
I wish you had seen me first lying five days dead in the jagged
mountain, blackening on a white rock
In a dry place, the vultures had dipped their white beaks in my
eyes, their red heads in my side,
You'd make them raise the great wings and soar, you'd see my
bowels drawn out of my body and the rock stained under me
And the soil of death, I was lying black-mouthed in the filth of
death. You'd not have wanted me then, and nothing
Would be as it is, but you'd be lucky and I quiet.' He looked
in her eyes and smiled, with that bruised look,
Not hearing, bent inward on his own pain; but after a time he
seemed to remember that she spoke of death
And said angrily: 'Have you death for sale, you talk like a salesman.
Every fool knows it's pleasant to rot in peace
After long pain but that's not the question.
I saw a nigger boxer in Monterey one night,
Cut all to pieces,
Sail on up the wind of fists, beaten and blinded,
Vomiting blood: he needed only let down
His knees onto the canvas and be at peace,
He wouldn't do it. I say I cared for that man;
He was better than a better fighter.'
Reave's doctor came to break the cast from his body; Helen
helped, and washed the ill-smelling
Long-enclosed flesh. Afterwards while Reave rested she spoke
with his mother in another room. 'You saw him.
The giant shoulders and the pitiful part below. I know that he
has hoped secretly to live again . . .
Ride a horse . . . he'll never sit up in bed. What can we do?'
She answered with a like contorted face,
But not twitching like Helen's: 'There were two oaks broken
that morning. What can you do? Run away.
Follow that Hester. You and she are out of employment
When a man's withered from the waist down.' She answered,
'Yet I was thinking there's . . . another kindness
That I could do for him. Another that his mother can't.' 'What?'
she said fiercely. 'Nothing, nothing, nothing,'
Helen faintly answered. 'However, I'll never leave him. I promised
him never to leave him and I've grown faithful
At last.' She felt the old woman's eyes like flints press on her
own, she shuddered and said, 'I know
You hate me: let our spites lie, we're both unhappy. Tell me
something, if you know, what's all this troublesome
Affair of living, and people being troubled and the sun rising
and setting: what's it all about, what's it for?
I've seen you go on bitterly year after year, living, planning,
working: do you know something
That's hidden from the weak like me? Or it's only
Gloomy stubbornness like Reave's blind ... or else perhaps
we live for no other reason than because our parents
Enjoyed their pleasure and we dread to die? I dread it,' she said
with her hands at her throat, 'so ... I can't bear it,
But Reave's too proud. I mean, if the pain ceases, if his pain ceases
at last . . . then I can't imagine.
But if the pain keeps up I must do it.' 'What can you do
But run away off? You're not the make. I wish
He could see your slobbered face, Helen, he'd hardly
Have hunted into Arizona to fetch it home,
Do what then?' Her mouth shuddered and tautened, she answered,
'I cannot tell.' 'I believe you,' she answered scornfully.
Helen stood moving her sad lips
Like one casting a sum of numbers, and said,
'I must have read it somewhere: a hundred and twenty-three
Millions in this one country of the world, besides the animals.
Far more in Asia. How can it be sacred
Being so common? I've never hated you back for hating me;
I’ve called you Mother; now if you'd help me
To know what's right I'd be grateful.' The old woman with
eyes like a hawk's watching
A bush of sparrows: 'Tell me then.' 'For now it seems to me
that all the billion and a half of our lives on earth,
And the more that died long ago, and the things that happened
and will happen again, and all the beacons of time
Up to this time look very senseless, a roadless forest full of cries
and ignorance. But is life precious
At the worst you know? I used to wish for round jewels and a
fur cloak: I could love opals,
Born in October: and a set of gay laughing friends to fool with,
and one of those long low stream-lined cars
That glide quietly and shine like satin: so I can't say, whether
life maybe might 'a' been precious
At the best. And death's awful. . . . We're too closed-in here.'
'If you think of killing yourself': she laughed,
Lifting her shoulders. Helen looked down and said,
'How did . . . Reave's dad do it?' 'In the forehead, poor fool,
And was long dying.' 'In the heart would have been better?'
'You must find out for yourself.' 'I wasn't thinking of myself;
I'm faithful now.' 'To the death? Ah?
A new color for you, worn strangely.'
She went through the house
To her son's room. Helen followed, saying, 'Go quietly,
And listen.' They tip-toed down to hear a thin moaning
Increase and break off; then hands beat on the bed
In the room behind the shut door; a silence followed,
And again the moaning. The old woman rolled her gray head
And whispered, 'Til not awake him.' But Helen: 'If that is sleep,
Then life's a dream.' She touched the door-handle
And the room was full of silence; they entered, Reave lay
Stolid and strong, meeting them with calm eyes
Blood-shot around the gray-blue. Helen said faintly,
'May I turn you now?' He said 'What meanness in you
Is always making me out worse than I am? Helpless enough,
But not to that point.' The old woman went to the window
and looked down the canyon; then turning: 'Helen talks strangely.
She says that she's now faithful. What does that mean, do you
think?' Reave answered, 'I know she is, and I pay it
With cross impatiences: I'm sorry, Helen.' 'Oh, but you'd never
guess,' the mother said furiously,
'How far that reaches, this kind of faithfulness. She's likely had word
From the yellow-haired man, because . . .' Helen said sharply,
'That man is dead.' Reave strained up his head, groaning,
'Who told you? Everything slips away. I was hopeful still
To touch him with my hands. He might have come near me
Sometime to mock my ruin. . . .' The old woman said,
'How could she hear? She's lying, I watched her mouth.' 'Reave
Helen said patiently; 'only by waiting for him and he didn't
come, beat him to corrupt earth,
Dust and a wind. Oh Reave, be at peace
For anything you owed there.' 'She was lying again,'
The mother said, 'but a moment ago in the other room
Her truth came out. This white, violet-eyed thing
Would if she dared murder you: Oh, from high motives,
All mercy and good will like a lamp in a window, but mostly wondering
Whether a dutiful wife will shoot her man
In the head or the heart.' Helen had cried out to speak,
But checked herself and watched Reave; he answered heavily,
His light eyes withstanding his mother's dark ones: 'We've talked it over,
But I have forbidden her.' Then Helen cried, 'Don't send me away.
I believe you will never need me: but God's not moderate enough
to trust, and when he turns bad, no one
Can bear him to the end.' He answered, 'That's cowardly said;
there's nothing a man can't bear. Push my bed
To the window and let me look out westward.' They moved
his bed; in the mouth of the gorge the evening sea-cloud
Hung heavy black, Jeoparded all over with sanguine fire-spots;
he muttered wearily, 'We're too closed-in here.
I lie like a felled log in a gully and women wrangle above me.
I have no power and no use
And no comfort left and I cannot sleep. I have my own law
That I will keep, and not die despising myself.'
The stormy twilight
closed over and filled the canyon
And drowned the house, and the ocean made a great noise in
the dark, crying up the canyon; with between the cries
Noises like trespassers breaking fences, or the cattle running.
Helen slept in a room by herself,
For Thurso wanted no witness to hear his nights of endured
pain, and had sent her from the low couch
Beside his bed, to use the little room that Hester Clark had
been glad of.
She fell asleep for a moment and lay an hour
Terribly awake, and went down the stair, having a candle
In both her hands, the right hooding the flame
That etched red lines between the dark fingers,
The left holding the shaft, and the white grease
Dripped hot films on it. She went barefoot and silently
With the one piece of linen about her, hearing
The stairs groan like a man, and stole through the house
To a distant closet where vermin-traps and squirrel-poison,
Hunting-gear and a smell of leather were kept. She sought her
In that close place, meaning to hide it in her bed
Between the springs and the mattress, knowing that no one
Commands life without the tools of death
Readily hid in the background. She loaded in
New cartridges with glittering brass jackets, for oil
Or time might have damped the old; and turned to the door.
Mark stood in the door.
But Helen thought that the strain in her mind had bred a
And waited for it to fade.
He said, 'A thready light
Pricked into my room through the cracked panel.
I think my mind has been roiled, when I lie wakeful
Blades of strange light. Are you going hunting?
Dear Helen let the deer feed. Life's bad for people,
But the clean deer, that leap on the high hills
And feed by the hollow streams, there's not one of them
Lame nor a fool.' She answered in her mind, 'Nothing
Is very serious,' and said, 'Ah, there's one hurt one,
Would thank me kindly, if it had a man's brain,
For death, that great fallen stag.' 'Where is it? I'll feed it
With tender grass.' 'It fell on the mountain and its broken bones
Have caught the nerves in their hard lumps of healing,
So that it's in pain forever: I hate . . . love him too.
Love him, I said.' 'If you kill any living
Creature, the happiness of your heart is troubled
In quiet times afterwards.' 'What's that to me?
I shall have no quiet time after this hunting;
But brief and violent. Let me go now.' He answered,
'I know what love is, I saw it in the devil's tie-pin.
How dared you come down undressed?' She saw him shaking
In the candle-light, and thought with a thread ravelled
From her mind's gathering fire-mist, 'You poor good fool,
Is it there with you?' He said, 'Horrible dreams of love
Like splintered glass in my bed cut me all night, like a splintered
Reave betrayed you with that pale bright doll.' He came from
the doorway toward her, then Helen laughed and dipped
Her hand in a half sack of barley on the shelf, and felt the kernels
light and luxuriously
Lie in her fingers, and said through white lips:
'Is this the poison-soaked
grain? that makes the squirrels cry
In the quiet of their little caves, that bitter death?' 'Let it alone.
Oh, this place crawls with death,
Traps, guns, knives, poisons: but no one sleeps near, no one can
bear us. There's a bright wanting beast in me:
Hunt that, Helen. Kill that. I thought love
Was kindness, it's a blind burning beast. Oh, wait: because I
heard voices and answered them, saw spirits and feared
You and the rest were whispering that I was crazy. Why, that
was nothing. But now, when I burn to tear
That last white rag from you, and do-how can I say it? striking
the obscene parts of our flesh together
This is the real thing, this is the madness.' She laughed and ran
her fingers through the deadly barley and answered:
'Yours is a common trouble, we'd manage you a kind cure
If I were liberal; but you'd loathe me for it, and my winter's come.
I wish to leave my poor spotted memory
A little lonely and distinct at this bitter end. Is it nearly morning?'
'Do you think . . .' he answered, and suddenly
The pallor of his face gleamed with a film of sweat, he said 'I've
fooled myself out of life for fancy
Feelings and second-hand noble dreams. Kill all the deer on the
mountain, what's that to me? I've seen them
Go to it like dogs in the bushes outside the cantonment: wise
soldiers: did you think you could come naked
And not be mauled?' She said furiously,
'You fool,' and heard him hiss when he touched her breast and
'The lids of your eyes are swollen, your eyes are knives.
This is it. Yes.' His teeth clattered together so that she thought
of a crooked stone the returning
Wave sucks, and the stone rolls over and over, clashing on the
pebbles. He wiped his forehead with his hand and shook
The fingers as if blood hung on them, saying, 'That Hester's
gone. I might have had a second-hand . . .
Noble thought very likely.
Tell the audience for all those cat-calls there's not one of them
But's more or less in my manner
Done out of his dear life by scrupulous cowardices.
Men ought to ravage: then down comes the black curtain,
We died like old empty priests.' But Helen seeing him
All shrunken again, 'Believe me,' she said in pity,
'These rosy toys you’ve missed make a bad bargain
At the time of the end. I could be very envious
Of virgins and a quiet life.' 'The two you’ve had
Are nothing,' he answered, 'take two hundred. But only
Beware not to make a baby, we know what life is:
That mercy's weakness, and honesty
The simple fear of detection; and beauty, paint;
And love, a furious longing to join the sewers of two bodies.
That's how God made us and the next wars
Will swallow up all. . . . Helen, I'm very tired
With cloudy thoughts, and have been fearful at times
Of falling into some unclearness of mind.
That would be bad: lunacy's worse than death.
If I should consider taking a certain remedy
While I'm still sane, to scour the rancid bowl
Back to its first brightness, who could be blamed?
You've always been kind beyond words.'
He went, and Helen
At once forgot him, all her energy reverting
To its old preoccupation like a freed spring,
She took the rifle to hide it below her mattress
And barefoot stilly went up through the house.
She passed Reave's door.
And returned again to listen whether he moaned
Or slept. No sound appeared, but wind or the ocean
Whispering high over the house. In that silence
Her intention flowered; she became calm, convinced
That time had come to cut all the knots at once
And lead the agonies of strain to a sharp end.
Mark's outcry, though she forgot him, had tired her,
The resistances of a drained spirit faint
Before the power does, she had lost the strength not to act
And stealthily unlatched the door. It seemed clear, plain
And reasonable, to seal that heavy sleep
From ever waking to worse; but having planted
The candle upon the chest by the door, and drawing
Down the steel barrel the three points to one line,
She met his eyes wide open, broad and inhuman, like the universal
eyes of night, judging
And damning her act, with remote absolute merciless comprehension.
She was like a touched sleepwalker,
Unnerved and annihilated: what contemptible
Distraction had made the reasons of her dream? and Reave:
'Come closer. You'd botch it from there, and I'd be days
Dying or not, cursing you for a fool.'
She leaned and shuffled toward him.
She felt her neck
Wrenched by the buffet, and lukewarm blood wandering
From her mouth down the left side of her throat and tasted
The thick salt sweetness, and Reave saying furiously, 'Sneak in
Fighting on my last inch? I never struck you before, you earned
it enough.' She mumbled,
'It doesn't hurt . . .' 'Trust you,' he said, 'to side with my
enemy.' His great hands, and the white knuckles
Like peaks among the black hairs, blazed in the lit center of
the orbital darknesses that hooded her eyes.
His hands had her little rifle and were strained to break it, but the
great strength that she believed could do anything
Failed after all. Snapping and whining with pain like a wounded
dog he shifted over on his elbows
And thrust the barrel under the board of the bedside, drew up
against his own weight, and the splitting stock
Ripped from the steel. 'That's yours,' he said gasping. 'Go call
Luna.' She felt the pain of her lips swelling,
Cut on the dog-tooth edge, and the blood on her throat, and
muttered, 'It doesn't hurt.' 'You red and white
Barber's-pole,' he said, 'fetch Johnny Luna.
We'll have a disarmament here.' 'What?' 'Light the lamp and take
Your light and fetch him.' 'What? Oh, oh!' she cowered and
knelt down against the bedside, 'don't send me away.
I'll promise never ... I promise . . .' 'You'll not be sent away,
I'll not let you go.' 'How could I sleep,'
She prayed, not hearing him, 'or lie down, or live, in another
place, not knowing
How you were, and never see you nor touch you?' 'You lie,'
he groaned, 'or you're changed.
Be sure I'll not let you go. I am not changed.'
She clenched a fold of the coverlet and stammered, 'I am not changed.
I was only ignorant. When the idiot body and perverse
Imagination went whoring . . . then still whatever it is
That loves was weeping here.'
Reave's old mother
Stood in the door, her corded bare throat thrust
From the fold of a brown cloak, and dull-white wisps
Starring her head; the noise of the broken gun-stock
Had beckoned her from a dream. 'Praying is she? Religion's
Their last trick . . .' She saw the blood-streak, and blazing
Went and dragged up Helen's face, one hand in the hair,
One at her throat, saying 'What have you done, you . . .
It's your own, is it? That's better.' Reave said, 'Let her alone.
I called and she came running asleep, in the dark,
She struck her face.' The old woman looked down the candlelight
At the rifle-barrel and the splintered stock, and said,
'You are still strong.' 'But can't run my own errands.
Wash yourself,' he said to Helen; 'light the lamp;
Go and call Johnny.'
When Helen was gone, the old mother:
'Tell me what she was doing.' He rolled his shoulders
And groaned, striking his hand down at his thigh.
'Would you believe this fixed and passive flesh
Has red hot wire in it? What nights.' 'Why have you sent for Luna
At midnight?' 'To amuse me awhile. Get to bed, mother,
Before the aching night strikes to your bones.
I had an inflamed throat
After that fall of rain, all my discomforts
Turned fiery then. . . . Oh, if you need, I'll tell you.
We've rifles and a shotgun, but nobody
Will ever go hunting from here again, and to save oiling
He's to break the guns. They call it disarmament. I dreamed
The old dog that was your husband and my father
Stood in a cave-mouth calling; and, to speak exactly,
I'll not be tempted.'
The house in the deep gorge
Had been darkened again. One of those night-birds that cry in
quickening rhythm like the rattle of a spun plate falling
Cried, then the silver streak southeast loosed a slight moon. A few
of the house-windows feebly glittered
Back its horned light; the massed black obelisks of redwood
utterly ignored it, but the leafless leaning sycamore
Shone like a trunked and branched moon on the dark wood,
a tree made wholly of luminous lunar material,
Except one long hanging shadow. The clouds took the moon
again, the sycamore vanished, the dream in the eyes
Of the house died; and imperceptibly a twilight began to exist,
without wind or color, or foam
Of a formal cloud, but misty rain fell. A faintly more curded
mist-wreath flowed from a chimney and down
The house-roof valleys, it spread earthling dissolving, and sensitive
wild nostrils up the great gorge
Tasted the oak-smoke and coffee fragrance of a waking house.
The world lightened, the rain increased.
A broad brown face peered from a window, a woman whose
blood had known this coast for ten thousand years
Perceived a strangeness of shape in that moony sycamore. She
had work in hand, but an hour later she poured
Coffee for Mark Thurso, who'd not come down yet, and set it
with his egg back of the stove and went
To empty the grounds into the willows. She hooded her head
against the rain with an apron, but returning
Saw the sycamore framed in the apron-fold
And it looked dreadful. She approached and found Mark hanging
Long-necked, very wet with rain. She stood at some distance,
Mournfully, with the coffee-pot in her hand,
Thinking the grounds were bad for chickens, but this
Rainy morning she might have mixed them with the other leavings,
Not gone out, and seen nothing. She went and washed plates and cups,
Wishing for Johnny, but he was busy in the barn.
The rain fell on the barn roof, the rain fell . . . everywhere . . .
And no one could sleep: smashing rifles all night.
Old Mrs. Thurso went in and out; Olvidia
Trembled each time, but after going to the privy
Was more composed in her mind.
The soft beneficent rain hung
on the hills without flowing down
And filled the soil to the rock, all it could hold; it lay on the
shore, it sweetened the bitter sea,
It dripped from every bough of the forest, and from the feet of
the dead man and his hands and his chin,
It glazed his pale-blue face, and glazed the great seaward rock-face
of Thurso's Landing, and each green leaf
And grass-blade south by the coast to Point Conception; and
north into Oregon; so long an island of cloud,
Blinding white above, dark and dove-purple below, rained on
a thousand miles of the continent's edge;
The old savage brood-mare, the earth, drank strength and forgot
her deserts. Helen Thurso
Walked in Reave's room and looked out the window, and the
Seemed to have borne in the rain enormous fruit.
She covered her mouth, through incredulous fear feeling
The bulge of her bruised lip, and left the room
Silently; she met Reave's mother carrying a white
Bundle of linen that glimmered down the dark passage,
And said, 'Have you seen Mark?' She answered jealously
'What do you want?' 'Oh, oh. If he's in his room.
I was thinking about the rain, I haven't seen him this morning...
My eyes are sick.' She passed and felt the smell
Of the freshly ironed linen mix with her fear,
And came to Olvidia in the hot kitchen
Stroking the iron on the board. 'Come to the door
For God's sake, for the windows are blind with rain.
In the sycamore tree?' The Indian hung back, mumbling
'Might 'a' been a mountain-lion or a big hawk,' and Helen
Dragged her by the wrist, but the old mother
Had followed and heard, and when they came to the door
She was at the foot of the tree. They heard her cry
Three times, a dry scream more goshawk's than woman's.
Helen breathed and said 'Reave has heard that. I ...
Get a knife.' She ran to the tree; where Mark's mother
Stood stiffly quiet by the grotesque legs
And said, 'I can't reach. He is the one I loved.'
Helen began to clamber at the tree, her knees
Slipping on the wet bark and her fingers
On the ivory bough, the old woman said harshly, 'Make no
show of yourself.
He's been long dead and will not admire you. This one is mine,
my servants will help me. Stand off, you.'
Helen looked back at her face and saw Olvidia and Luna coming;
she looked at the dead man's face
And said, 'Oh, good-bye,' and looked down quickly. 'I will go
to Reave,' she said trembling.
She went to his room.
The bed-covers were trailed on the floor and he at the window
Hung like a broken snake, his hands on the sill lifting his head
to the glass. He turned toward her,
Wrinkled like a fighting mastiff with rage and pain, saying 'That
dead dog.' She shivering and shrill cried out
'No!' but he said, 'The dead dog that walks in the wood, that
he used to talk to, has done this: too shot with cowardice
To live, and too envious to let his sons. Praising death. Oh my
If you lived in the hell of pain and impotence
That I inhabit, yet you oughtn't to have yielded. It was something
to see the envy slaver with hunger
And not be fed.' Then Helen said faintly,
half borne into belief
by Reave's passion, 'Oh, have you seen him?'
The great strained shoulders began to fail, the hooked fingers to
slip on the painted sill, 'Felt him,' he said,
Unable to lift his weight, she dragged it
To the side of the bed, and heaved up the dead half
Of his body, and he the living. She fell over against him
In the strain of lifting, his violent hands held her
Like a lover's, hurting her breasts against his ribs, she felt a
ghastliness in him
But forced her charged nerves to make no resistance
And kissed his cheek with her bruised mouth, the hardening
Muscles of his jaw hurt that. 'Fool,' he said hoarsely.
'Have you forgotten? You'll have to learn to endure
A starved life for a hot woman.' She stood up
And saw his lips bluish and compressed and his eyes blunted.
'Our loves now,
Ah,' he said, 'a little too heavy. A wrench of pain
For the consummation.
Pain is the solidest thing in the world, it has hard edges,
I think it has a shape and might be handled,
Like a rock worn with flat sides and edges, harder than rock, but
Like love it can hardly last more than fifty years.
Mark is dead. He'd not have yielded in his right mind.
Go help my mother.' Helen said, 'She drove me away.
He was always faithful and kind. Oh, oh, what shore
Are we sailing toward, with such wrecks for the sea-marks?
Dear, you didn't dream I meant to outlive you? Our poor brother
Did very wisely though I wish ... I can hardly remember
The time when death used to seem terrible to me:
I've worse fears now. But if the whole world should be burned alive.
Our brother, whom we loved well, is safe.'
And said, 'Go and tell her to send Luna.
He'll have to ride to Lobos, there's no telephone
Nearer. To let the coroner know. Oh God, why bother?
I used to have legs and do my own business.
Do you believe in a God?' 'I didn't use to.'
'Well? Now do you?' 'We've less reason to. Yes.
There's not a tinge of goodness in the whole world,
But war in my mind and agony in yours, and darkness
Over the sea and the heights and all bright spirits
Forsake the earth. We've excellent cause
To know there's none: but there is.' 'Go to church then.
A torturer then.' He wiped his forehead and said,
'Another dead dog to bite us. What, that sits calmly
Above the stars, and sees the old woman lose both her sons for
nothing, one in a dirty noose
And the other like a broken stick on a dung-hill; then smiles over
the sea to China on a million people
Dying of hunger, the lucky ones sold their children for tufts of
grass and die with green teeth, God pats
His baby hands together and looks down pleasantly. No, the
world's not so comic as that: I'll tell you
What the world's like: like a stone for no reason falling in the
night from a cliff in the hills, that makes a lonely
Noise and a spark in the hollow darkness, and nobody sees and
nobody cares. There's nothing good in it
Except the courage in us not to be beaten. It can't make us
Cringe or say please.' 'Dear,' she answered,
'Where would the weakness be in kicking off a random and senseless
Darkness like that? Strength doesn't suffer for nothing,
Strength would refuse to suffer for nothing, but choose its times
To live or die.' 'Listen,' he said; 'there's a silver spoon
With my initials on it in a drawer somewhere.
When I was five years old I saw my father
Use it in his mouth: I never would touch it again.
No doubt it stinks.' Tenderly she answered,
'You have great hands: I love you: kill me first,
And then eat with my spoon. It would be wine and honey,
Oh sweet, sweet, after this life.' He laughed angrily
And moaned and said, 'Let's talk sense if we talk.
I'll not have him buried here and put him forever
In the black dog's power: superstitious as you:
To Monterey, some old graveyard
Where decent people are lying beside each other
And a rose turns from the sea.
'. . . Mother,' he said,
She entering the room, 'your loss is hard.
There's nothing. We must take our pain and live in it.' Her eyes
More like dry flints than ever, 'Can you read this,'
She said, holding a rag of sodden paper,
'My sight fails, and the rain has washed it, pinned to his coat.'
She gave it to Reave, he holding it against the light
Said wearily, 'Read it, Helen.' Sick pencil-marks
On death-cold paper: she read in a brittle voice:
'I fear insanity. Forgive this ugly sight,
Dribbling and screeching would be an uglier sight,
Or to do something worse. Oh, why did you go away,
Why did you come back?
My only cause for this act is fear of madness.
That must be stated clearly. No other cause. Dear love,
Come soon, this room is purer.' Helen's voice fainted on the
She fixed her eyes on the old mother's and said,
'It was written to you.' Who answered harshly, 'I did not go
away nor come back. Her tricks of nature
Have made their misery again. I never hated her enough.' Helen,
without moving: 'How could I care
Who hates me or not, when I think about him writing that in
the night? He often made notes for thoughts
With a stub pencil,' she bit her lip not to weep, and suddenly
the tears rained down. The old mother: 'Ah, Reave?
We have to face it: she fished for him too. If I'd married a
stronger man my sons might have outlived me,
But a woman from nowhere comes and burns you like wax.
Give me that paper.' Helen gave it and the wet slip
Tore in the taking. Reave said, 'Snatch, sea-gull. Be a little quiet
over my head, pain's worn me thin,
And Mark's dead in the house. We're sorry for you,
Mother. As for that message, it has no meaning but the pity in
it.' The old woman looked young, with the angry
Color on her cheek-bones; Helen looked aged and pale, saying,
'Very likely it is quite true that I brought
Misery in both my hands, unwillingly. I am much to be blamed
for all our miseries. I can bear it.
But while the night darkens, and God closes his hand on this
house, and there's no help, I might do well at last
What you can't do. After that I'll submit meekly, whether you
wish to punish me or please to say
Some merciful thing.'
Reave opened his eyes and said,
'Mark's not to be buried here, this is the dog's ditch.
He'd 'a' lived long if he hadn't walked in the woods.
If you have to sell horses to buy a grave to the north, there's a
That has no name, I'm fond of him, I rode him before the fall.'
His mother stared, saying 'Who buys horses?'
He answered, 'He's not for sale, I'll not have it. I hunted the
desert for him
When he strayed, and brought him back. Are you all ganged
With the devil in the woods?' The old woman touched him and said,
'Reave. Nobody will sell your horses. There's no buyer.
You're tired.' He answered, 'Not tired: but to say it plainly:
In hell, in hell. ... I have talked foolishness.
I can bear twice as much. Go back to Mark, mother.
He needs ... I remember.' The women stood side by side
Gazing at his locked face, the mother weaving
Her thin hands together, having that rainy paper
Crushed between the two palms, but Helen stone still; then Reave
Drew down the lids over his staring eyes
And made a thin careful smile. The old woman suddenly
Sighed and went out.
Reave drew loud breath and his eyes
Opened, fastened on Helen's: 'Don't let her come in again.
I'd hate to tell her. She's much to be pitied too. Never let her
know,' he said craftily,
'That she's the cause. She lay with my enemy, all springs from
that. I believe you'd never dream it, to look at her,
She'd do such things. Has it cleared?' She stammered 'What
what?' 'Go to the window,' he said, 'and look out, and see
Whether the rain has stopped yet.' She went and said, 'No.'
'It is clearing eastward?' 'All dark. Some wind moves
The sky-ridge trees.' 'Rain or not'; and after a moment, 'Did
you notice anything,' he said, 'Helen, disordered
In what I said lately?' 'I know you suffer
Overpowering pain at times.' 'Hm? Not a bit. Firm as a rock.
. . . Listen, Helen:
My pride and I have agreed: I can bear this punishment,
But I don't have to.' She thought he had yielded and was willing
That he was beaten seemed to be breaking her heart, that he
would die terrified her, that his useless pain
Would find its goal in peace was a great sheaf of good; so three
ways stricken, white and faint: and the undertow
Unconscious enmity that never died from her mind tearing her
too with its exultation: 'Oh,'
She whispered, 'what change?' 'Why should I refuse the means
to relieve it?'
He said defiantly. 'I'm like in the sea's gut here,
Weighed down with tons of green thick water: while above the air's
Clean and alive. We're too closed-in here.' He paused,
His eyes glassed and hands clenched. 'A twinge. Don't imagine
I'm running from the dead dog: we'll make a bonfire
Of his platforms on the rock-head some night.
That's my one point in life now: to clean out
Trace and shape and smell of him and leave the canyon
Virgin if fire and dynamite can do it.
In summer when the ground hardens we'll slash
A driveway up to the kilns and blow them clean
By the foundations. Have you told him yet?' 'What?' she asked.
'What! bring it to the door.' 'Dear, I'm dull with sadness,
I can't see to your mind.' 'Have I not told you
Three times already? The truck, the truck, the motor-truck.
The thing that runs on four wheels. Tell him tell Luna
To bring it to the door and help you load on your cripple,
So I'll taste air to-day.' 'Where?' 'Where it's widest,
And the ocean and hills are clear to be seen,
On the Landing: the rock-head: up there.' 'Oh, Oh, that's in the sky.
That's well thought.' She trembled violently and said,
'I'll do my part. It's noon:
First you must eat, though Mark's dead in the house.
Then we'll go up to the rock. It seems long
Since morning.' He said, 'To-morrow they'll need the motor
To take my brother . . . who has died, as you say. Akh, do
'You'll need the jack and a shovel, Johnny Luna,
For the ground's rotten with rain; and an axe
For brushwood no doubt has grown up in the old road.
Yet another thing:
There was a man named Rick Armstrong: do you remember?
He's dead quite lately. He died too. The world's
Full of that kind of thing.' She pressed her hand
On the reeling pulse in her throat and said, 'I'll tell you.
He drove too fast at the Salinas River bridge,
Suddenly his sins came on him and swerved the wheel
Over the concrete, he rolled with his car
And got his life bumped out in the willow-bushes.
Do you understand? It will please my husband,
For he was his bitter enemy: but if I told him
I might not be believed.
I am very anxious to make him feel . . . contentment
Before he ... sleeps, because he suffers great pain
And has no joy nor hope. Johnny, you'll help me
For love of him, and I'll give you this ring besides.
I wore it through all my ventures, bought long ago
With money I earned. I paid twelve dollars for it,
You can get three no doubt: the stone's nothing,
But the hoop's gold. Take it please.
I've nothing else of any priceable value
Except my marriage ring: I'll die in that,
Though stained, some acid. What you must do is, tell him
About Rick Armstrong's death, as I told it to you,
To make him happier; but say the Vasquez boys
Told you, not I. Everyone's talking about it,
He was well known on the coast; he worked, you know,
With the road-builders. Mind the jack and the spade,
And the hand-axe: he's half mad with pain
Or he'd not want to go up. Why, the rain's stopped,'
She said, and sobbed once and smiled. 'That's a grand sign.
Ah don't forget how Rick Armstrong died.'
Reave's mother heard
The motor stammer to the house-door, and spin and stop. She
stood up beside her own bed,
On which she had had her dearest laid down, and had never
ceased to arrange the body, to make it seem
Happily asleep if she could; having dried it with a warm towel
and washed the rain-stains, and dressed her son
In clean night-clothes, covering the throat: she looked at the
bed with unmoistened eyes like a mother falcon,
And went downstairs to the door; Luna was entering. 'Who
ordered this? Take it back to the shed.
He will stay in my house with me to-night: if we go to-morrow
To another place, 7 will tell you, not that woman.' Helen came
while she spoke, and Luna
Looked from her face to hers, as a boatman
From the rock shore to the driving sea. Helen said, 'We must
take the bedding first, it is ready.'
The old mother: 'You're very confident suddenly. You think
you've made enough wretchedness to break my mind and
Commander here.' Helen, vaguely, in her own thought snared:
'What? No. Is a wind blowing, the trees on the cloud
Look hunched: and all my strength's gone: Oh mother,
Tell Reave to wait! Comfort him.' 'Reave?' She turned and
went toward his room, then Helen remembered that suddenly
He seemed to dislike his mother: 'Don't go in to Reave:
Oh, I was wrong,' and followed her; and Luna followed
The two women. Helen said to Luna: 'Take out the mattress
and the covers: we'll have to go.' The old mother
To Reave: 'You called for that? Did you tell me you were going
And I missed hearing?' His eyes avoided her, he answered:
'I'm going to the head of the rock to smell the rain.
Why not? I can't make Mark live
By smothering here.' 'The rock?' 'Uh, what y' call the Landing.
I believe the air's free there.' He closed his eyes
And fists, and smiled. Helen said sharply to Luna:
'The little package is mine: let it lie, I’ll take it.
Bread and meat.' Reave's mother looked back and saw
Her throat shuddering and swallowing as strained with sickness
At the thought of food. 'Why: how long are you staying up
'While our ... the light lasts,' she answered, and swallowed,
'Olvidia's here if you need anything.' The mother:
'Reave. This is not in your line, to run off from trouble.
She leads you I think.' 'Run?' He rolled his head on the thick
To a man with no legs. And she leads me: you are very greedy
to make humiliation perfect, ah?
I might have a grudge too . . . wi' that dog . . . ugh. Mother, mother:
You endure something and so do I: but bodily pain is ignoble
and soils the mind. If ever
I should talk wildly ... no danger: I can bear much more than
anything yet . . . you'll not take it to heart,
Put it aside as just foam and nothing. I love you and respect you,
and when you are bitter with me I know
How life has used you.
About the other thing: have you ever known me to turn back
from something begun? I've grown touchy,
But not all changed.' 'In this raw air,' she answered,
'In the likely rain to go up: you told me your trouble turned
fiery after a rain.' 'I am ashamed,'
He said dully, 'to leave you in sorrow. I can do nothing here,
not even walk to Mark's room.
A man like me, crippled out of use, hurt out of patience and so forth,
May's well go picnics. . . . D'y' see that star?' 'What?' 'The
star.' 'There's no star, Reave.' He drew his hand
Over his eyes and said, 'No star? None? Oh, yes there is.
Thousands, but in the house we can't see them. Well, Helen.
Move me, ah? March.'
That frame of redwood sticks
And canvas was laid on the bed against him, Reave shifted
The living part of his body onto it, the others
The lower part. Helen saw his jaws locked
Not to express pain, she heard the breath
Hiss through his nostrils, and thought that she must detach
Her nerves from feeling with his, or all her remnant
Of strength to help him would bleed away to no purpose: but a
Fear forbade any restraint of sympathy,
It looked too much like betrayal; and Reave might suffer
Some mystic loss. She took one of the whittled
Litter-handles, the old woman another, and Luna
The two at Reave's feet; so they conveyed him forth
And edged him onto the truck-floor. He felt his mother's
Eyes probe him, then to cover pain and the shame
Of helplessness: 'You ought to rig up a mast
And tackle,' he muttered with flat dry lips,
'To hoist your deck-load aboard.' 'Reave, for God's sake,'
Helen cried. 'What?' he said. 'Ships are bad luck I think.'
'Fool.' 'Yes'; and she said panting, 'Oh, you're quite right,
Call it a ship. I'll sit on the deck beside you.
Our lives are taken away from luck and given
Higher.' The old woman looked at her lifted face
And began fiercely to speak, and looked at Reave's, and clutched
The broken board-ends of the floor of the truck
By his feet, where the steel binding was sprung. 'I will stay with Mark,'
She said harshly. 'It's been promoted,' Helen said,
'From being the barge for calves to the butcher.
Now . . .' The mother: 'I think, Reave, this woman
Is faithful now.' 'A ship,' Helen said, 'exploring
The open ocean of pain to try if there's any
Shore.' 'You have not the courage,' she answered.
'But as you deal with Reave I will deal with you,
And twice as much. I have nothing to hold me.' She turned to
And the car moved; before she came to the door-step
She fell down in the path; but no one saw her,
For Helen looked at Reave, Reave at the sky,
And Luna drove. The old woman dragged her hands
Through the wet earth and stood up, lifting her yellow
Asturine face: as when a goshawk is caught in a steel trap at a
That was feathered with a bird for bait, and the farmer comes
with death in his hands and takes down the pole, she turns
In the steel teeth and outstares her captor with harder eyes.
Pitching and slipping on stones
And greasy earth, the truck toiled up the farmlane; Helen
watched the lines in Reave's face, and risings
Of muscle in his cheek when he locked his jaws when a jolt
racked him. Once, when the fore-wheels and then the rear
Struck in succession and Reave's lips tightened, she laid her
hand on his fist: 'That was the cable,' she said,
And wished that she had kept silence; and said, 'It lies in the
canyon mud like a killed snake: your enemy
Was under your wheels.' But whether he heard her or not he
made no sign.
At the turn to the county road
Mill creek is bridged; the stream ran full, on the bridge was a
whirlwind funnel of sucks and splinters, then Helen
Looked up the redwoods and saw the racing sky, and a ray of sun
plunge like a sword, cut northward,
And be withdrawn. They climbed the cliff-cut zig-zag stair of
the road; when they neared the crest
The blanket streamed up, stripped from Reave's feet, and Helen
With a sudden sea-gull cry caught it down again
And said 'Oh, Reave!' as if waked from a dream
That drove toward some unbearable end. 'We can't
Go out to the rock, but if you can bear it
We'll go on farther than that, we'll go on to town.
The doctor will have to do ... at least something
To still your pain.' 'All the opium in India.
Brought low enough without that'; he muttered more,
But the streaming wind took it away, then Helen:
'Oh Reave be merciful: spare me once.
We couldn't tell that the storm was stripping the high places
When we planned this, down below, I can't bear it.' The wind
tilted the truck on the steep springs
When it gained the crest and turned quartering; Reave struck
the floor with his hand, holding his body with the other to
From rolling, and groaned, 'I guess you can bear it.' 'You don't
know,' she said,
'What stands on the rock . . .' she stoppered her mouth with
her knuckles against the teeth, and breathed through them,
'You have no mercy: your choice is wise. Here is the gate.'
At the cliff-line, in the lee of one of those heavily
Timbered platforms on the very brow, from which the lime-kegs
used to be slung to the ship's hold,
They rested at length; but only the cripple's insane invincible
stubbornness had brought them to it, by the gullied
Overgrown road. A broken shed on the staging, long ago unroofed
by some former storm,
Still offered a brittle screen of standing planks, splintered, singing
in the wind; Thurso's companions
Laid him in that shelter on the sea-brow platform. He gathered
and governed pain in a long silence, and said,
'Did you see that riffraff under the floor, in the joists and
'What?' Helen said dimly. 'Sticks and grass: wood-rats' nests.
Kindling. When this spell of rain ends
We've only to drop a match and all the platform
Flies into ashes: while Luna pries the old engine-boiler
Down the cliff into the sea: we'll have our rock-head
Clean as at first.' She answered, 'Oh: that?' and shivered
In the whirl of the broken wind, saying, 'Reave: listen.
Do you think he minds?' 'Hm?' 'Your father. Because if he
Lives after his death, envying and doing evil,
Then death, that I have always been sick with fear
To think of, is not an end, and you and I
Might look down at our lives laughing
From a great height.' 'Dead as a dog,' he said.
'I never thought anything else. Grieving for Mark
I may’ve talked foolishly. We'll erase his leavings
For pleasure and to clean the world.' 'You don't know.
7 don't know. They won't tell,' she said grievously.
'Another man, Reave, is dead also. They fall and fall
Like apples in a wind. Johnny Luna told me.' She stood up
And called Luna from prying at the truck's mudguard,
Where it was bent to the tire by a stump of oak,
'Was it the Vasquez boys that told you?' she screamed
Down the loud wind. Luna climbed up the platform
And stood with his blank slate face bent from the storm,
Saying 'What you want?' 'I was so troubled this morning,
I hardly listened to you: didn't you tell me
Armstrong was killed?' He nodded gravely, and Helen:
'I'm glad. Are you glad, Reave?' 'No. Rick Armstrong?'
He said groaning, turning himself on his shoulders,
'How did Rick Armstrong die?' 'All in a minute,'
She answered, 'how was it? In his car, Johnny?'
'He drive too fast at the bridge.' 'When was that?' Reeve said.
'I don' know. Maybe las' week. Vidal Vasquez
He talking about.' Reave said, 'It's too bad.
He was a good fellow: but the single fault
I've never understood yet. Well. Time and chance.' Helen, suddenly
shaking like the erect boards
Behind her in the wind: 'Is it nothing, nothing to you? It was
something to me! Hush. I'll be still. I hoped
You'd feel an old debt paid, and be pleased, and I'd
Be dearer to you. He's dead, you understand? He's gone down.
You live.' Reave gazed up in slight wonder; Helen sighed
And turned to Luna: 'That's all. Thank you for lying. It was
no good.' The Indian went carefully down,
And back to the car, clinging by the platform timbers in the
current of wind.
Helen crouched again
On the planks beside Reave's mattress, she kept jerking her hands
together and drawing them apart; the screen
Of boards behind her whistled and clapped like something heard
on a ship; the ragged skies and wreaths
Of mist rushed by, and crescent-moon-shaped flurries of foam
on the streaked sea; the rock and the platform
Were driving up wind with dreadful increasing speed, the deck
and the hull. She moistened her lips to whisper
Silently: 'Mark's out of it. Oh happy, Oh happy! but the racing
Will burst with this. Is the time now?'
Reave never slept, he
lay and looked up with broad light eyes
At the driven sky; the upper eyelids cut the blue circles, the
lower missed them; his face was motionless
Like worn hard wood, but all the while he felt pain. It was hateful
of him to leave the duty to a woman;
Lie there fallen; wait to be saved; what had they come up for!
And when she killed her lover to please him
He had not cared.
She turned herself toward the clattering
boards and undid the package,
And turned again, holding the things in her hands,
Hidden in her lap. The engine in her side was quieter,
But the ship glided dreadfully faster, giddy with speed.
She swayed upright and went around him to approach him
From the north side, so that her right hand
Was under his chin when she knelt down and kissed,
And babbling something of love drew his own sharp hunting-knife
Between the jaw and the jut of cartilage, with such
Hoarded unconscious violence that both the arteries,
And the tubes between them, and much of the muscle sheath
On the right of the throat were severed; his head jerked to the left,
The great wound gaped and sighed, all in a moment
Mattress and blanket, the planks, the whole world of sense,
Were painted with blood and foam. He heard her crying
She'd done it for love, he formed his lips to say 'Bitch,'
But breath and the light failed; he felt the animal
Flurry of death waggle his arms and head,
No pain from the loins down. Then all was perfect
Helen stood up from her deed
And said 'I have the other thing in my fingers.
Oh Johnny Luna, go down and tell his mother
That the ship has found land.' But when she looked,
Luna was still tinkering the truck. She ran
To the platform-end, and the wind threw her on the planks,
She lay on her breasts and thighs, crying 'Tell the old woman
To come up here and see him like a king in Babylon
With his slave lying at his feet.'
Her face and the blood
Moved him to flee into the wind and down
The rock-path in the cliff-side.
Reave's mother labored up the
steep face, Luna behind her.
The wind had sagged toward the southwest and somewhat declined
in violence, so that a wide-winged hawk
That had been hungry all day was able to hang in the birdless
air of the rock-head when they came up,
Probing with her eyes wild buckwheat bushes and sage and the
polished leaves of the barren strawberry; she looked
Nailed to the firmament, her twitching wings like the spread
hands of a crucified man fighting the nails;
But Helen imagined her a vulture and was screaming at her.
When Reave's mother came,
Helen made shift to sit up on the planks beside her slain man,
and staring with enormous violet eyes
From a stained shrunk face, began to make words in a voice that
was not her own: 'I was afraid you'd not come.
I have to tell you. But now I've taken Reave's lifetime of pain
upon me to spend in an hour or two,
And my throat's burnt, but I have to tell you
As clearly as I might be able, because you ought to understand
that I am not vile to the very end,
And have done well. His death was rapid. But for mine, after
I'd done it, if I'd taken any easy way
Out, you'd have scorned me; and the watchful world might 'a.
thought I'd done it unworthily, what I did out of pure love
And pity; or thought that I die to escape punishment. Don't come
near me yet, for I've not finished. I read
In the Sunday paper, how they dug out the grave of a king in
Babylon and found his women about him
With their skulls knocked in; I planned to honor
Reave in that way: he was like a king in some ways, and if he
had found any great thing to do
He might have done greatly.'
She fell, drawing up her knees,
and the mother said: 'What poison?' Helen made no answer,
But being asked a third time: 'No,' she answered faintly, 'a
woman's poison, a white one. The little tablets
I used for fear of having a baby, in our happy time.' She fixed
her eyes on the vacant air
Above the sea-edge: 'Why there's that tiny tiny thing with the
Come up to see us. Keep her off, please.
No, Hester. No. You may watch if you like but I alone
Am allowed to lie at his feet, my love is proved.'
The old woman answered, 'There's nobody.' She crept on the
platform for the wind threw her down, and crept past Helen
To Reave and said, 'How did you do it? Did he let you do it?'
Helen, coughing with laughter in the poison fever:
'Reave let me? Have you gone crazy? I knifed him while I
kissed his mouth.' She cried with pain
At the end of speaking, and the mother: 'I knew he would never
give in, why did I ask? You have done well,
You always were treacherous, you did it easily.' She found the
And took it up from the blood against Reave's shoulder,
Then Helen cried, raising herself on her hands,
'You must not! You have no right. I alone saved him,
Alone to die with him.' 'When you die I will lay it down.
You are not to get well.' Helen gasped, laughing
And retching, 'Oh that’s all? Old fool.
Those little white things, meant to fight the seed of our lovers,
Are seed themselves, I'm pregnant and swell fast,
Baby death, darling, darling.'
She widened terrified
Eyes and said staring: 'I can't
Be silent in pain like Reave: Oh, I did hope to.
I never dreamed, Oh, ooh; Oh, ooh.' The old woman watched her
Attentively across Reave's body, and let the knife
Drop on the planks. Helen heard it, and after a long while
She said, stretching her throat, 'Be merciful to me.
As I was merciful to Reave. I can't bear
The next hour. . . . Unless it would seem wrong?
Reave not be honored enough?' 'I think your time
Is near,' she answered.
'There is an end or I'd help you: it will be braver in us
Not to keep begging death out of the cloud
Before he is ready.' But she crept under the wind
Around Reave's body and kissed Helen's hand, and remained
Tenderly until she died.
The platform is like a rough plank theatre-stage
Built on the brow of the promontory: as if our blood had labored
all around the earth from Asia
To play its mystery before strict judges at last, the final ocean
and sky, to prove our nature
More shining than that of the other animals. It is rather ignoble
in its quiet times, mean in its pleasures,
Slavish in the mass; but at stricken moments it can shine terribly
against the dark magnificence of things.
Luna came up the platform and stood shaking,
Leaned over against the wind; the old woman said:
'We can do nothing. She had a wasteful gallant spirit.
It is not poured out yet; go down for now.'
Toward evening the
seas thundered on the rock, and rain fell heavily
Like a curtain, with one red coal of sundown glowing in its dark.
The old woman stood up
And fell, and stood up and called: 'Now come, it is time. . . .
To bear . . . endure ... are poor things, Johnny; to live
And bear what we can't strike back at: but we come to them
Unless we fall off before. . . . Has the car lights?
Help me: you'll have to carry all the weight. I am the last
And worst of four: and at last the unhappiest: but that's nothing.'
Comments about Thurso’s Landing by Robinson Jeffers
Read this poem in other languages
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