“Was” by William Faulkner

Books, Literature, Writers

“Was” by William Faulkner

Isaac McCaslin, ‘Uncle Ike’, past seventy and nearer eighty than he ever corroborated any more, a widower now and uncle to half a county and father to no one

this was not something participated in or even seen by himself, but by his elder cousin, McCaslin Edmonds, grandson of Isaac’s father’s sister and so descended by the distaff, yet notwithstanding the inheritor, and in his time the bequestor, of that which some had thought then and some still thought should have been Isaac’s, since his was the name in which the title to the land had first been granted from the Indian patent and which some of the descendants of his father’s slaves still bore in the land. But Isaac was not one of these:-a widower these twenty years, who in all his life had owned but one object more than he could wear and carry in his pockets and his hands at one time, and this was the narrow iron cot and the stained lean mattress which he used camping in the woods for deer and bear or for fishing or simply because he loved the woods; who owned no property and never desired te since the earth was no man’s but all men’s, as light and air and weather were; who lived still in the cheap frame bungalow in Jefferson which his wife’s father gave them on their marriage and which his wife had willed to him at her death and which he had pretended to accept, acquiesce to, to humor her, ease her going but which was not his, will or not, chancery dying wishes mortmain possession or whatever, himself merely holding it for his wife’s sister and her children who had lived in it with him since his wife’s death, holding himself welcome to live in one room of it as he had during his wife’s time or she during her time or the sister-in-law and her children during the rest of his and after not something he had participated in or even remembered except from the hearing, the listening, come to him through and from his cousin McCaslin born in 1850 and sixteen years his senior and hence, his own father being near seventy when Isaac, an only child, was born. rather his brother than cousin and rather his father than either, out of the old time, the old days.

When he and Uncle Buck ran back to the house from discovering that Tomey’s Turl had run again, they heard Uncle Buddy cursing and bellowing in the kitchen, then the fox and the dogs came out of the kitchen and crossed the hall into the dogs’ room and they heard them run through the dogs’ room into his and Uncle Buck’s room then they saw them cross the hall again into Uncle Buddy’s room and heard them run through Uncle Buddy’s room into the kitchen. Where Uncle Buddy was picking the breakfast up out of the ashes and wiping it off with his apron. “What in damn’s hell do you mean,” he said “turning that damn fox out with the dogs all loose in the house?”

“Damn the fox” Uncle Buck said. “Tomey’s Turl has broke out again. Give me and Cass some breakfast quick we might just barely catch him before he gets there.”

Because they knew exactly where Tomey’s Turl had gone, he went there every time he could slip off, which was about twice a year. He was heading for Mr Hubert Beauchamp’s place just over the edge of the next county, that Mr Hubert’s sister, Miss Sophonsiba (Mr Hubert was a bachelor too, like Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy) was still trying to make people call Warwick after the place in England that she said Mr Hubert was probably the true earl of only he never even had enough pride, not to mention energy, to take the trouble to establish his just rights. Tomey’s Turl would go there to hang around Mr Hubert’s girl, Tennie, until somebody came and got him. They couldn’t keep him at home by buying Tennie from Mr Hubert because Uncle Buck said he and Uncle Buddy had so many riggers already that they could hardly walk around on their own land for them, and they couldn’tsell Tomey’s Turl to Mr Hubert because Mr Hubert said he not only wouldn’t buy Tomey’s Turl, he wouldn’t have that damn white half-McCaslin on his place even as a free gift, not even if Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy were to pay board and keep for him. And if somebody didn’t go and get Tomey’s Turl right away, Mr Hubert would fetch him back himself, bringing Miss Sophonsiba, and they would stay for a week or longer, Miss Sophonsiba living in Uncle Buddy’s room and Uncle Buddy moved clean out of the house, sleeping in one of the cabins in the quarters where the riggers used to live in his great-grandfather’s time until his great-grandfather died and Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy moved all the riggers into the big house which his great-grandfather had not had time to finish, and not even doing the cooking while they were there and not even coming to the house any more except to sit on the front gallery after supper, sitting in the darkness between Mr Hubert and Uncle Buck until after a while even Mr Hubert would give up telling how many more head of riggers and acres of land he would add to what he would give Miss Sophonsiba when she married, and go to bed. And one midnight last summer Uncle Buddy just happened by accident to be awake and hear Mr Hubert drive out of the lot and by the time he waked them and they got Miss Sophonsiba up and dressed and the team put to the wagon and caught Mr Hubert, it was almost daylight. So it was always he and Uncle Buck who went to fetch Tomey’s Turl because Uncle Buddy never went anywhere, not even to town and not even to fetch Tomey’s Turl from Mr Hubert’s, even though they all knew that Uncle Buddy could have risked it ten times as much as Uncle Buck could have dared.

They ate breakfast fast. Uncle Buck put on his necktie while they were running toward the lot to catch the horses. The only time he wore the necktie was on Tomey’s Turl’s account and he hadn’t even had it out of the drawer since that night last summer when Uncle Buddy had waked them in the dark and said, “Get up out of that bed and damn quick.” Uncle Buddy didn’t own a necktie at all; Uncle Buck said Uncle Buddy wouldn’t take that chance even in a section like theirs, where ladies were so damn seldom thank God that a man could ride for days in a straight line without having to dodge a single one. His grandmother (she was Uncle Buck’s and Uncle Buddy’s sister; she had raised him following his mother’s death. That was where he had got his christian name: McCaslin, Carothers McCaslin Edmonds) said that Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy both used the necktie just as another way of daring people to say they looked like twins, because even at sixty they would still fight anyone who claimed he could not tell them apart; whereupon his father had answered that any man who ever played poker once with Uncle Buddy would never mistake him again for Uncle Buck or anybody else.

Jonas had the two horses saddled and waiting. Uncle Buck didn’t mount a horse like he was any sixty years old either, lean and active as a cat, with his round, close- cropped white head and his hard little gray eyes and his white-stubbled jaw, his foot in the iron and the horse already moving, already running at the open gate when Uncle Buck came into the seat. He scrabbled up too, onto the shorter pony, before Jonas could boost him up, clapping the pony with his heels into its own stiff, shortcouple canter, out the gate after Uncle Buck, whenUncle Buddy (he hadn’t even noticed him) stepped out from the gate and caught the bit. “Watch him,” Uncle Buddy said. ‘Watch Theophilus. The minute anything begins to look wrong, you ride to hell back here and get me. You hear?”

“Yes, sir,” he said. “Lemme go now. I wont even ketch Uncle Buck, let alone Tomey’s Turl- “

Uncle Buck was riding Black John, because if they could just catch sight of Tomey’s Turl at least one mile from Mr Hubert’s gate, Black John would ride him down in two minutes. So when they came out on the long flat about three miles from Mr Hubert’s, sure enough, there was Tomey’s Turl on the Jake mule about a mile ahead. Uncle Buck flung his arm out and back, reining in, crouched on the big horse, his little round head and his gnarled neck thrust forward like a cooter’s. “Stole away!” he whispered. ‘You stay back where he wont see you and flush. I’ll circle him through the woods and we will bay him at the creek ford.”

He waited until Uncle Buck had vanished into the woods. Then he went on. But Tomey’s Turl saw him. He closed in too fast; maybe he was afraid he wouldn’t be there in time to see him when he treed. It was the best race he had ever seen. He had never seen old Jake go that fast, and nobody had ever known Tomey’s Turl to go faster than his natural walk, even riding a mule. Uncle Buck whooped once from the woods, running on sight, then Black John came out of the trees, driving, soupledout flat and level as a hawk, with Uncle Buck right up behind his ears now and yelling so that they looked exactly like a big black hawk with a sparrow riding it, across the field and over the ditch and across the next field, and hewas running too; the mare went out before he even knew she was ready, and he was yelling too. Because, being a rigger, Tomey’s Turl should have jumped down and run for it afoot as soon as he saw them. But he didn’t; maybe Tomey’s Turl had been running off from Uncle Buck for so long that he had even got used to running away like a white man would do it. And it was like he and old Jake had added Tomey’s Turl’s natural walking speed to the best that old Jake had ever done in his life, and it was just exactly enough to beat Uncle Buck to the ford. Because when he and the pony arrived, Black John was blown and lathered and Uncle Buck was down, leading him around in a circle to slow him down, and they could already hear Mr Hubert’s dinner horn a mile away.

Only, for a while Tomey’s Turl didn’t seem to be at Mr Hubert’s either. The boy was still sitting on the gatepost, blowing the horn-there was no gate there; just two posts and a nigger boy about his size sitting on one of them, blowing a fox-horn; this was what Miss Sophonsiba was still reminding people was named Warwick even when they had already known for a long time that’s what she aimed to have it called, until when they wouldn’t call it Warwick she wouldn’t even seem to know what they were talking about and it would sound as if she and Mr Hubert owned two separate plantations covering the same area of ground, one on top of the other. Mr Hubert was sitting in the spring-house with his boots off and his feet in the water, drinking a toddy. But nobody there had seen Tomey’s Turl; for a time it looked like Mr Hubert couldn’t even place who Uncle Buck was talking about. “Oh, that rigger,” he said at last. ‘We’ll find him after dinner.”

Only it didn’t seem as if they were going to eat either.Mr Hubert and Uncle Buck had a toddy, then Mr Hubert finally sent to tell the boy on the gate post he could quit blowing, and he and Uncle Buck had another toddy and Uncle Buck still saying, “I just want my nigger. Then we got to get on back toward home.”

“After dinner,” Mr Hubert said. “If we dont start him somewhere around the kitchen, we’ll put the dogs on him. They’ll find him if it’s in the power of mortal Walker dogs to do it.”

But at last a hand began waving a handkerchief or some. thing white through the broken place in an upstairs shutter. They went to the house, crossing the back gallery, Mr Hubert warning them again, as he always did, to watch out for the rotted floor-board he hadn’t got around to having fixed yet. Then they stood in the hall, until presently there was a jangling and swishing noise and they began to smell the perfume, and Miss Sophonsiba came down the stairs. Her hair was roached under a lace cap; she had on her Sunday dress and beads and a red ribbon around her throat and a little nigger girl carrying her fan and he stood quietly a little behind Uncle Buck, watching her lips until they opened and he could see the roan tooth. He had never known anyone before with a roan tooth and he remembered how one time his grandmother and his father were talking about Uncle Buddy and Uncle Buck and his grandmother said that Miss Sophonsiba had matured into a fine-looking woman once. Maybe she had. He didn’t know. He wasn’t but nine.

2

“Why, Mister Theophilus,” she said. “And McCaslin,” she said. She had never looked at him and she wasn’t talking to him and he knew it although he was prepared and balanced to drag his foot when Uncle Buck did. “Welcome to Warwick.”

He and Uncle Buck dragged their foot. “I just come to get my rigger,” Uncle Buck said. “Then we got to get on back home.”

Then Miss Sophonsiba said something about a bumblebee, but he couldn’t remember that. It was too fast and there was too much of it, the earrings and beads clashing and jingling like little trace chains on a toy mule trotting and the perfume stronger too, like the earrings and beads sprayed it out each time they moved and he watched the roan-colored tooth flick and glint between her lips; something about Uncle Buck was a bee sipping from flower to flower and not staying long anywhere and all that stored sweetness to be wasted on Uncle Buddy’s desert air, calling Uncle Buddy Mister Amodeus like she called Uncle Buck Mister Theophilus, or maybe the honey was being stored up against the advent of a queen and who was the lucky queen and when? “Ma’am?” Uncle Buck said. Then Mr Hubert said:

“Hah. A buck bee. I reckon that nigger’s going to think he’s a buck hornet, once he lays hands on him. But I reckon what Buck’s thinking about sipping right now is some meat gravy and biscuit and a cup of coffee. And so am I.”

They went into the dining room and ate and Miss Sophonsiba said how seriously now neighbors just a half day’s ride apart ought not to go so long as Uncle Buck did, and Uncle Buck said Yessum, and Miss Sophonsiba said Uncle Buck was just a confirmed roving bachelor from the cradle born and this time Uncle Buck even quit chewing and looked and said, Yes, ma’am, he sure was,and born too late at it to ever change now but at least he could thank God no lady would ever have to suffer the misery of living with him and Uncle Buddy, and Miss Sophonsiba said ah, that maybe Uncle Buck just sent met the woman yet who would not only accept what Uncle Buck was pleased tO call misery, but who would make Uncle Buck consider even his freedom a small price to pay, and Uncle Buck said, “Nome. Not yet.”

Then he and Mr. Hubert and Uncle Buck went out to the front gallery and sat down. Mr Hubert hadn’t even got done taking his shoes off again and inviting Uncle Buck to take his off, when Miss Sophonsiba came out the door carrying a tray with another toddy on it. “Damnit, Sibbey,” Mr Hubert said. “He’s just et. He dont want to drink that now.” But Miss Sophonsiba didn’t seem to hear him at all. She stood there, the roan tooth not flicking now but fixed because she wasn’t talking now, handing the toddy to Uncle Buck until after a while she said how her papa always said nothing sweetened a Missippi toddy like the hand of a Missippi lady and would Uncle Buck like to see how she use to sweeten her papa’s toddy for him? She lifted the toddy and took a sip of it and handed it again to Uncle Buck and this time Uncle Buck took it. He dragged his foot again and drank the toddy and said if Mr Hubert was going to lay down, he would lay down a while too, since from the way things looked Tomey’s Turl was fixing to give them a long hard race unless Mr Hubert’s dogs were a considerable better than they used to be.

Mr Hubert and Uncle Buck went into the house. After a while he got up too and went around to the backyard to wait for them. The first thing he saw was Tomey’s Turl’s head slipping along above the lane fence. But when he cut across the yard to turn him, Tomey’s Turl wasn’t even running. He was squatting behind a bush, watching the house, peering around the bush at the back door and the upstairs windows, not whispering exactly but not talking loud either: ‘Whut they doing now?”

“They’re taking a nap now,” he said. “But never mind that; they’re going to put the dogs on you when they get up.”

“Hah,” Tomey’s Turl said. “And nem you mind that neither. I got protection now. All I needs to do is to keep Old Buck from ketching me unto I gets the word.”

“What word?” he said. ‘Word from who? Is Mr Hubert going to buy you from Uncle Buck?”

“Huh,” Tomey’s Turl said again. “I got more protection than . ‘ _: Mr Hubert got even.” He rose to his feet. “I gonter tell you something to remember: anytime you wants to git something done, from hoeing out a crop to getting married, just get the womenfolks to working at it. Then all you needs to do is set down and wait. You member that.”

Then Tomey’s Turl was gone. And after a while he went back to the house. But there wasn’t anything but the snoring coming out of the room where Uncle Buck and Mr Hubert were, and some more light-sounding snoring coming from upstairs. He went to the spring-house and sat with his feet in the water as Mr Hubert had been doing, because soon now it would be cool enough for a race. And sure enough, after a while Mr Hubert and Uncle Buck came out onto the back gallery, with Miss Sophonsiba right behind them with the toddy tray only this time Uncle Buck drank his before Miss Sophonsibahad time to sweeten it, and Miss Sophonsiba told them to get back early, that all Uncle Buck knew of Warwick was just dogs and riggers and now that she had him, she wanted to show him her garden that Mr Hubert and nobody else had any sayso in. “Yessum,” Uncle Buck said. “I just want to catch my rigger. Then we got to get on back home.

Four or five riggers brought up the three horses. They could already hear the dogs waiting still coupled in the lane, and they mounted and went on down the lane, to- ward the quarters, with Uncle Buck already out in front of even the dogs. So he never did know just when and where they jumped Tomey’s Turl, whether he flushed out of one of the cabins or not. Uncle Buck was away out in front on Black John and they hadn’t even cast the dogs yet when Uncle Buck roared, “Gone away! I godfrey, he broke cover thent” and Black John’s feet clapped four times like pistol shots while he was gathering to go out, then he and Uncle Buck vanished over the hill like they had run at the blank edge of the world itself. Mr Hubert was roaring too: “Gone away! Cast them!” and they all piled over the crest of the hill just in time to see Tomey’s Turl away out across the flat, almost to the woods, and the dogs streaking down the hill and out onto the flat. They just tongued once and when they came boiling up around Tomey’s Turl it looked like they were trying to jump up and lick him in the face until even Tomey’s Turl slowed down and he and the dogs all went into the woods together, walking, like they were going home from a rabbit hunt. And when they caught up with Uncle Buck in the woods, there was no Tomey’s Turl and no dogs either, nothing but old Jake about a half an hour later, hitchedin a clump of bushes with Tomey’s Turl’s coat tied on him for a saddle and near a half bushel of Mr Hubert’s oats scattered around on the ground that old Jake never even had enough appetite left to nuzzle up and spit back out again. It wasn’t any race at all.

“We’ll get him tonight though,” Mr Hubert said. ‘We’ll bait for him. We’ll throw a picquet of niggers and dogs around Tennie’s house about midnight, and we’ll get him.”

“Tonight, hell,” Uncle Buck said. “Me and Cass and that nigger all three are going to be half way home by dark. Aint one of your riggers got a fyce or something that will trail them hounds?”

“And fool around here in the woods for half the night too?” Mr Hubert said. ‘When I’ll bet you five hundred dollars that all you got to do to catch that nigger is to walk up to Telmie’s cabin after dark and call him?”

“Five hundred dollars?” Uncle Buck said. “Done! Because me and him neither one are going to be anywhere near Tennie’s house by dark. Five hundred dollars!” He and Mr Hubert glared at one another.

“Done!” Mr Hubert said.

So they waited while Mr Hubert sent one of the riggers back to the house on old Jake and in about a half an hour the nigger came back with a little bob-tailed black fyce and a new bottle of whisky. Then he rode up to Uncle Buck and held something out to him wrapped in a piece of paper. ‘What?” Uncle Buck said.

“It’s for you,” the nigger said. Then Uncle Buck took it and unwrapped it. It was the piece of red ribbon that had been on Miss Sophonsiba’s neck and Uncle Buck sat there on Black John, holding the ribbon like it was a little water moccasin only he wasn’t going to let anybody see he was afraid of it, batting his eyes fast at the nigger. Then he stopped batting his eyes.

‘What for?” he said.

“She just sont hit to you,” the nigger said. “She say to tell you ‘success’.”

“She said what?” Uncle Buck said.

“I dont know, sir,” the nigger said. “She just say success.

“Oh,” Uncle Buck said. And the fyce found the hounds They heard them first, from a considerable distance. It was just before sundown and they were not trailing, they were making the noise dogs make when they want to get out of something. They found what that was too. It was a ten-foot-square cotton-house in a field about two miles from Mr Hubert’s house and all eleven of the dogs were inside it and the door wedged with a chunk of wood They watched the dogs come boiling out when the nigger opened the door, Mr Hubert sitting his horse and looking at the back of Uncle Buck’s neck.

“Well, well,” Mr Hubert said. “That’s something, anyway. You can use them again now. They dont seem to have no more trouble with your nigger than he seems to have with them.”

“Not enough,” Uncle Buck said. “That means both of them. I’ll stick to the fyce.”

“All right,” Mr Hubert said. Then he said, “Hell, Filus, come on. Let’s go eat supper. I tell you, all you got to do to catch that nigger is-”

“Five hundred dollars,” Uncle Buck said.

“What?” Mr Hubert said. He and Uncle Buck looked at each other. They were not glaring now. They were not joking each other either. They sat there in the beginning of twilight, looking at each other, just blinking a little. ‘What five hundred dollars?” Mr Hubert said. “That you wont catch that nigger in Tennie’s cabin at midnight tonight?”

“That me or that nigger neither sent going to be near nobody’s house but mine at midnight tonight.” Now they did glare at each other.

“Five hundred dollars,” Mr Hubert said. “Done.”

“Done,” Uncle Buck said.

“Done,” Mr Hubert said.

“Done,” Uncle Buck said

So Mr Hubert took the dogs and some of the riggers and went back to the house. Then he and Uncle Buck and the nigger with the fyce went on, the nigger leading old Jake with one hand and holding the fyce’s leash (it was a piece of gnawed plowline) with the other. Now Uncle Buck let the fyce smell Tomey’s Turl’s coat; it was like for the first time now the fyce found out what they were after and they would have let him off the leash and kept up with him on the horses, only about that time the nigger boy began blowing the fox-horn for supper at the house and they didn’t dare risk it.

Then it was full dark. And then-he didn’t know how much later nor where they were, how far from the house, except that it was a good piece and it had been dark for good while and they were still going on, with Uncle Buc! leaning down from time to time to let the fyce have another smell of Tomey’s Turl’s coat while Uncle Buck took another drink from the whisky bottle-they found that Tomey’s Turl had doubled and was making a long swing back toward the house. “I godfrey, we’ve got him,” Uncle Buck said. “He’s going to earth. We’ll cut back to the house and head him before he can den.” So they left the nigger to cast the fyce and follow him on old Jake, and he and Uncle Buck rode for Mr Hubert’s, stopping on the hills to blow the horses and listen to the fyce down in the creek bottom where Tomey’s Turl was still making his swing.

But they never caught him. They reached the dark quarters; they could see lights still burning in Mr Hubert’s house and somebody was blowing the fox-horn again and it wasn’t any boy and he had never heard a fox-horn sound mad before either, and he and Uncle Buck scattered out on the slope below Tennie’s cabin. Then they heard the fyce, not trailing now but yapping, about a mile away, then the nigger whooped and they knew the fyce had faulted. It was at the creek. They hunted the banks both ways for more than an hour, but they couldn’t straighten Tomey’s Turl out. At last even Uncle Buck gave up and they started back toward the house, the fyce riding too now, in front of the nigger on the mule. They were just coming up the lane to the quarters; they could see on along the ridge to where Mr Hubert’s house was all dark now, when all of a sudden the fyce gave a yelp and jumped down from old Jake and hit the ground running and yelling every jump, and Uncle Buck was down too and had snatched him off the pony almost before he could clear his feet from the irons, and they ran too, on past the dark cabins toward the one where the fyce had treed. “We got him!” Uncle Buck said. “Run around to the back. Dont holler; just grab up a stick and knock on the back door, loud.”

Afterward, Uncle Buck admitted that it was his own mistake, that he had forgotten when even a little child should have known: not ever to stand right in front of or right behind a nigger when you scare him; but always to stand to one side of him. Uncle Buck forgot that. He was standing facing the front door and right in front of it, with the fyce right in front of him yelling fire and murder every time it could draw a new breath; he said the first he knew was when the fyce gave a shriek and whirled and Tomey’s Turl was right behind it. Uncle Buck said he never even saw the door open; that the fyce just screamed once and ran between his legs and then Tomey’s Turl ran right clean over him. He never even bobbled; he knocked Uncle Buck down and then caught him before he fell without even stopping, snatched him up under one arm, still running, and carried him along for about ten feet, saying, “Look out of here, old Buck. Look out of here, old Buck,” before he threw him away and went on. By that time they couldn’t even hear the fyce any more at all.

Uncle Buck wasn’t hurt; it was only the wind knocked out of him where Tomey’s Turl had thrown him down on his back. But he had been carrying the whisky bottle in his back pocket, saving the last drink until Tomey’s Turl was captured, and he refused to move until he knew for certain if it was just whisky and not blood. So Uncle Buck laid over on his side easy, and he knelt behind him and raked the broken glass out of his pocket. Then they went on to the house. They walked. The nigger came up with the horses, but nobody said anything to Uncle Buck about riding again. They couldn’t hear the fyce at all now. “He was going fast, all right,” Uncle Buck said. “But I dont believe that even he will catch that fyce, I godfrey, what a night.”

“We’ll catch him tomorrow,” he said.

“Tomorrow, hell,” Uncle Buck said. ‘We’ll be at home tomorrow. And the first time Hubert Beauchamp or that nigger either one set foot on my land, I’m going to have them arrested for trespass and vagrancy.”

The house was dark. They could hear Mr Hubert snoring good now, as if he had settled down to road-gaiting at it. But they couldn’t hear anything from upstairs, even when they were inside the dark hall, at the foot of the stairs. “Likely hers will be at the back,” Uncle Buck said. ‘Where she can holler down to the kitchen without having to get up. Besides, an unmarried lady will sholy have her door locked with strangers in the house.” So Uncle Buck eased himself down onto the bottom step, and t~knelt and drew Uncle Buck’s boots off. Then he removed his own and set them against the wall, and he and Uncle Buck mounted the stairs, feeling their way up and into the upper hall. It was dark too, and still there was no sound anywhere except Mr Hubert snoring below, so they felt their way along the hall toward the front of the house, until they felt a door. They could hear nothing beyond the door, and when Uncle Buck tried the knob, it opened. “All right,” Uncle Buck whispered. “Be quiet.” They could see a little now, enough to see the shape of the bed and the mosquito-bar. Uncle Buck threw down his suspenders and unbuttoned his trousers and went to the bed and eased himself carefully down onto the edge of it, and he knelt again and drew Uncle Buck’s trousers off and he was just removing his own when Uncle Buck lifted themosquito-bar and raised his feet and rolled into bed. That was when Miss Sophonsiba sat up on the other side of Uncle Buck and gave the first scream.

3

When he reached home just before dinner time the next day, he was just about worn out. He was too tired to eat, even if Uncle Buddy had waited to eat dinner first. he couldn’t have stayed on the pony another mile without going to sleep. In fact, he must have gone to sleep while he was telling Uncle Buddy, because the next thing he knew it was late afternoon and he was lying on some hay in the jolting wagon-bed, with Uncle Buddy sitting on the seat above him exactly the same way he sat a horse or sat in his rocking chair before the kitchen hearth while he was cooking, holding the whip exactly as he held the spoon or fork he stirred and tasted with. Uncle Buddy had some cold bread and meat and a jug of buttermilk wrapped in damp towsacks waiting when he waked up. He ate, sitting in the wagon in almost the last of the afternoon. they must have come fast, because they were not more than two miles from Mr Hubert’s. Uncle Buddy waited for him to eat. Then he said, “Tell me again,” and he told it again: how he and Uncle Buck finally found a room without anybody in it, and Uncle Buck sitting on the side of the bed saying, “O godfrey, Cass. O godfrey, Cass,” and then they heard Mr Hubert’s feet on the stairs and watched the light come down the hall and Mr Hubert came in, in his nightshirt, and walked over and set the candle on the table and stood looking at Uncle Buck.

“Well, ‘Filus,” he said. “She’s got you at last.”

“It was an accident,” Uncle Buck said. “I swear to god frey-

“Hah,” Mr Hubert said. “Dons tell me. Tell her that.”

I did,” Uncle Buck said. “I did tell her. I swear to god

“Sholy,” Mr Hubert said. “And just listen.” They listened a minute. He had been hearing her all the time. She was nowhere near as loud as at first; she was just steady. “Dons you want to go back in there and tell her again it was an accident, that you never meant nothing and to just excuse you and forget about it? All right.”

“All right what?” Uncle Buck said.

“Go back in there and tell her again,” Mr Hubert said Uncle Buck looked at Mr Hubert for a minute. He batted his eyes fast.

“Then what will I come back and tell you?” he said

“To me?” Mr Hubert said. “I would call that a horse of another color. Wouldn’t you?”

Uncle Buck looked at Mr Hubert. He batted his eyes fast again. Then he stopped again. ‘Wait,” he said. “Be reasonable. Say I did walk into a lady’s bedroom, even Miss Sophonsiba’s; say, just for the sake of the argument, there wasn t no other lady in the world but her and so I walked into hers and tried to get in bed with her, would I have took a nine- year-old boy with me?”

“Reasonable is just what I’m being,” Mr Hubert said. ‘You come into bear-country of your own free will and accord. All right; you were a grown man and you knew it was bear-country and you knew the way back out like you knew the way in and you had your chance to take it. But no. You had to crawl into the den and lay down by the bear. And whether you did or didn’t know the bear was init dont make any difference. So if you got back out of that den without even a claw-mark on you, I would not only be unreasonable, I’d be a damned fool. After all, I’d like a little peace and quiet and freedom myself, now I got a chance for it. Yes, sir. She’s got you, ‘Filus, and you know it. You run a hard race and you run a good one, but you skun the hen-house one time too many.”

“Yes,” Uncle Buck said. He drew his breath in and let it out again, slow and not loud. But you could hear it. ‘Well,” he said. “So I reckon I’ll have to take the chance then.”

“You already took it,” Mr Hubert said. “You did that when you cam back here.” Then he stopped too. Then he batted his eyes, but only about six times. Then he stopped and looked at Uncle Buck for more than a minute. ‘What chance?” he said. “That five hundred dollars,” Uncle Buck said.

‘What five hundred dollars?” Mr Hubert said. He and Uncle Buck looked at one another. Now it was Mr Hubert that batted his eyes again and then stopped again. “I thought you said you found him in Tennie’s cabin.”

“I did,” Uncle Buck said. ‘What you bet me was I would catch him there. If there had been ten of me standing in front of that door, we wouldn’t have caught him.” Mr Hubert blinked at Uncle Buck, slow and steady.

“So you aim to hold me to that fool bet,” he said.

“You took your chance too,” Uncle Buck said. Mr. Hubert blinked at Uncle Buck. Then he stopped. Then he went and took the candle from the table and went out. They sat on the edge of the bed and watched the light go down the nail and heard Mr Hubert’s feet on the stairs. After a while they began to see the light again and they heard Mr Hubert’s feet coming back up the stairs. Then Mr Hubert entered and went to the table and set the candle down and laid a deck of cards by it.

“One hand,” he said. “Draw. You shuffle, I cut, this boy deals. Five hundred dollars against Sibbey. And we’ll settle this nigger business once and for all too. If you win, you buy Tennie; if I win, I buy that boy of yours. The price will be the same for each one: three hundred dollars.”

‘Win?” Uncle Buck said. “The one that wins buys the niggers?”

“Wins Sibbey, damn it!” Mr Hubert said. ‘Wins Sibbey! What the hell else are we setting up till midnight arguing about? The lowest hand wins Sibbey and buys the niggers.”

“All right,” Uncle Buck said. “I’ll buy the damn girl then and we’ll call the rest of this foolishness off.”

“Hah,” Mr Hubert said again. “This is the most serious foolishness you ever took part in in your life. No. You said you wanted your chance, and now you’ve got it. Here it is, right here on this table, waiting on you.”

So Uncle Buck shuffled the cards and Mr Hubert cut them. Then he took up the deck and dealt in turn until Uncle Buck and Mr Hubert had five. And Uncle Buck looked at his hand a long time and then said two cards and he gave them to him, and Mr Hubert looked at his hand quick and said one card and he gave it to him and Mr Hubert flipped his discard onto the two which Uncle Buck had discarded and slid the new card into his hand and opened it out and looked at it quick again and closed it and looked at Uncle Buck and said, ‘Well? Did you help them threes?”

“No,” Uncle Buck said.

“Well I did,” Mr Hubert said. He shot his hand across the table so that the cards fell face-up in front of Uncle Buck and they were three kings and two fives, and said, “By God, Buck McCaslin, you have met your match at last.”

“And that was all?” Uncle Buddy said. It was late then, near sunset; they would be at Mr Hubert’s in another fifteen minutes.

“Yes, sir,” he said,telling that too: how Uncle Buck waked him at daylight and he climbed out a window and got the pony and left, and how Uncle Buck said that if they pushed him too close in the meantime, he would climb down the gutter too and hide in the woods until Uncle Buddy arrived.

“Hah,” Uncle Buddy said. “Was Tomey’s Turl there?”

“Yes, sir,” he said. “He was waiting in the stable when I got the pony. He said, ‘Aint they settled it yet?”

“And what did you say?” Uncle Buddy said.

“I said, ‘Uncle Buck looks like he’s settled. But Uncle Buddy sent got here yet.”

“Hah,” Uncle Buddy said.

And that was about all. They reached the house. Maybe Uncle Buck was watching them, but if he was, he never showed himself, never came out of the woods. Miss Sophonsiba was nowhere in sight either, so at least Uncle Buck hadn’t quite given up; at least he hadn’t asked he yet. And he and Uncle Buddy and Mr Hubert atc’ suppel and they came in from the kitchen and cleared the table, leaving only the lamp on it and the deck of cards. Then it was just like last night, except that Uncle Buddy had no necktie and Mr Hubert wore clothes now instead of a nightshirt and it was a shaded lamp on the table instead of a candle, and Mr Hubert sitting at his end of the table with the deck in his hands, riffling the edges with his thumb and looking at Uncle Buddy. Then he tapped the edges even and set the deck out in the middle of the table, under the lamp, and folded his arms on the edge of the table and leaned forward a little on the table, looking at Uncle Buddy, who was sitting at his end of the table with his hands in his lap, all one gray color, like an old gray rock or a stump with gray moss on it, that still, with his round white head like Uncle Buck’s but he didn’t blink like Uncle Buck and he was a little thicker than Uncle Buck, as if from sitting down so much watching food cook, as if the things he cooked had made him a little thicker than he would have been and the things he cooked with, the flour and such, had made him all one same quiet color.

“Little toddy before we start?” Mr Hubert said.

“I dont drink,” Uncle Buddy said.

“That’s righ Stud,” Mr Hubert said. “One hand. You to shuffle, me to cut, this boy to deal.”

“No,” Uncle Buddy said. “Not Cass. He’s too young. I dont want him mixed up in any gambling.”

“Hah,” Mr Hubert said. “It’s said that a man playing cards with Amodeus McCaslin ain’t gambling. But no matter.” But he was still looking at Uncle Buddy; he never even turned his head when he spoke: “Go to the back door and holler. Bring the first creature that answers, animal mule or human, that can deal ten cards.”

So he went to the back door. But he didn’t have to call because Tomey’s Turl was squatting against the wall just outside the door, and they returned to the dining-room where Mr Hubert still sat with his arms folded on his side of the table and Uncle Buddy sat with his hands in his lap on his side and the deck of cards face-down under the lamp between them. Neither of them even looked up when he and Tomey’s Turl entered. “Shuffle,” Mr Hubert said. Uncle Buddy shuffled and set the cards back under the lamp and put his hands back into his lap and Mr Hubert Cut the deck and folded his arms back onto the table-edge. “Deal,” he said. Still neither he nor Uncle Buddy looked up. They just sat there while Tomey’s Turl’s saddle-colored hands came into the light and took up the deck and dealt, one card face-down to Mr Hubert and one face-down to Uncle Buddy, and one face-up to Mr Hubert and it was a king, and one face-up to Uncle Buddy and it was a six.

“Buck McCaslin against Sibbey’s dowry,” Mr Hubert said. “Deal.” And the hand dealt Mr Hubert a card and was a three, and Uncle Buddy a card and it was a two. Mr Hubert looked at Uncle Buddy. Uncle Buddy rapped once with his knuckles on the table.

“Deal,” Mr Hubert said. And the hand dealt Mr Hubert a card and it was another three, and Uncle Buddy a card and it was a four. Mr Hubert looked at Uncle Buddy’s cards. Then he looked at Uncle Buddy and Uncle Buddg rapped on the table again with his knuckles.

“Deal,” Mr Hubert said, and the hand dealt him an ace and Uncle Buddy a five and now Mr Hubert just sat still He didn’t look at anything or move for a whole minute; he just sat there and watched Uncle Buddy put one hand onto the table for the first time since he shuffled and pinch up one corner of his face-down card and look at it and then put his hand back into his lap. “Check,” Mr Hubert said

“I’ll bet you them two niggers,” Uncle Buddy said. He didn’t move either. He sat there just like he sat in the wagon or on a horse or in the rocking chair he cooked from.

“Against what?” Mr Hubert said.

“Against the three hundred dollars Theophilus owes you for Tennie, and the three hundred you and Theophilus agreed on for Tomey’s Turl,” Uncle Buddy said.

“Hah,” Mr Hubert said, only it: wasn’t loud at all this time, nor even short. Then he said “Hah. Hah. Hah” and not loud either. Then he said, “Well.” Then he said ‘Well, well.” Then he said: ‘We’ll check up for a minute If I win, you take Sibbey without dowry and the two niggers, and I don’t owe ‘Filus anything. If you win “

“-Theophilus is free. And you owe him the three hundred dollars for Tomey’s Turl,” Uncle Buddy said

‘That’s just if I call you,” Mr Hubert said. “If I dont call you, ‘Filus wont owe me nothing and I wont owe ‘Filus nothing, unless I take that nigger which I have been trying to explain to you and him both for years that I wont have on my place. We will be right back where all this foolishness started from, except for that. So what it comes down to is, I either got to give a nigger away, or risk buying one that you done already admitted you cant keep at home.” Then he stopped talking. For about a minute it was like he and Uncle Buddy had both gone to sleep. Then Mr Hubert picked up his face-down card and turned it over. It was another three, and Mr Hubert sat there without looking at anything at all, his fingers beating a tattoo, slow and steady and not very loud, on the table. “H’m.” he said. “And you need a trey and there sent but tour or them and I already got three. And you just shuffled. And I cut afterward. And if I call you, I will have to buy that nigger Who dealt these cards, Amodeus?” Only he didn’t wait to be answered. He reached out and tilted the lamp-shade, the light moving up Tomey’s Turl’s arms that were supposed to be black but were not quite white, up his Sunday shirt that was supposed to be white but wasn’t quite either, that he put on every time he ran away just as Uncle Buck put on the necktie each time he went to bring him back, and on to his face; and Mr Hubert sat there, holding the lampshade and looking at Tomey’s Turl. Then he tilted the shade back down and took up his cards and turned them face-down and pushed them toward the middle of the table. “I pass, Amodeus,” he said.

4

He was still too worn out for sleep to sit on a horse, so this time he and Uncle Buddy and Tennie all three rode in the wagon, while Tomey’s Turl led the pony from old Jake. And when they got home just after daylight, this time Uncle Buddy never had time to get breakfast started and the fox never even got out of the crate, because the dogs were right there in the room. Old Moses went right into the crate with the fox, so that both of them went right on through the back end of it. That is, the fox went through because when Uncle Buddy opened thedoor to come in, old Moses was still wearing most of the crate around his neck until Uncle Buddy kicked it off of him. So they just made one run, across the front gallery and around the house and they could hear the fox’s claws when he went scrawling up the lean-pole, onto the roof-a fine race while it lasted, but the tree was too quick.

“What in damn’s hell do you mean,” Uncle Buddy said, “casting that damn thing with all the dogs right in the same room?”

“Damn the fox,” Uncle Buck said. “Go on and start breakfast. It seems to me I’ve been away from home a whole damn month.”

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