Until Grandfather Compson died, we would go out to the farm every Saturday afternoon. We would leave home right after dinner in the surrey, I in front with Roskus, and Grandfather and Candace (Caddy, we called her) and Jason in the back. Grandfather and Roskus would talk, with the horses going fast, because it was the best team in the county. They would carry the surrey fast along the levels and up some of the hills even. But this was in north Mississippi, and on some of the hills Roskus and I could smell Grandfather’s cigar.
The farm was four miles away. There was a long, low house in the grove, not painted but kept whole and sound by a clever carpenter from the quarters named Sam Fathers, and behind it the barns and smokehouses, and further still, the quarters themselves, also kept whole and sound by Sam Fathers. He did nothing else, and they said he was almost a hundred years old. He lived with the Negroes and they—the white people; the Negroes called him a blue-gum—called him a Negro. But he wasn’t a Negro. That’s what I’m going to tell about.
When we got there, Mr. Stokes, the manager, would send a Negro boy with Caddy and Jason to the creek to fish, because Caddy was a girl and Jason was too little, but I wouldn’t go with them. I would go to Sam Fathers’ shop, where he would be making breast-yokes or wagon wheels, and I would always bring him some tobacco. Then he would stop working and he would fill his pipe—he made them himself, out of creek clay with a reed stem—and he would tell me about the old days. He talked like a nigger—that is, he said his words like niggers do, but he didn’t say the same words—and his hair was nigger hair. But his skin wasn’t quite the color of a light nigger and his nose and his mouth and chin were not nigger nose and mouth and chin. And his shape was not like the shape of a nigger when he gets old. He was straight in the back, not tall, a little broad, and his face was still all the time, like he might be somewhere else all the while he was working or when people, even white people, talked to him, or while he talked to me. It was just the same all the time, like he might be away up on a roof by himself, driving nails. Sometimes he would quit work with something half-finished on the bench, and sit down and smoke. And he wouldn’t jump up and go back to work when Mr. Stokes or even Grandfather came along.
So I would give him the tobacco and he would stop work and sit down and fill his pipe and talk to me.
“These niggers,” he said. “They call me Uncle Blue-Gum. And the white folks, they call me Sam Fathers.”
“Isn’t that your name?” I said.
“No. Not in the old days. I remember. I remember how I never saw but one white man until I was a boy big as you are; a whiskey trader that came every summer to the Plantation. It was the Man himself that named me. He didn’t name me Sam Fathers, though.”
“The Man?” I said.
“He owned the Plantation, the Negroes, my mammy too. He owned all the land that I knew of until I was grown. He was a Chickasaw chief. He sold my mammy to your greatgrandpappy. He said I didn’t have to go unless I wanted to, because I was a warrior too then. He was the one who named me Had-Two-Fathers.”
“Had-Two-Fathers?” I said. “That’s not a name. That’s not anything.”
“It was my name once. Listen.”
This is how Herman Basket told it when I was big enough to hear talk. He said that when Doom came back from New Orleans, he brought this woman with him. He brought six black people, though Herman Basket said they already had more black people in the Plantation than they could find use for. Sometimes they would run the black men with dogs, like you would a fox or a cat or a coon. And then Doom brought six more when he came home from New Orleans. He said he won them on the steamboat, and so he had to take them. He got off the steamboat with the six black people, Herman Basket said, and a big box in which something was alive, and the gold box of New Orleans salt about the size of a gold watch. And Herman Basket told how Doom took a puppy out of the box in which something was alive, and how he made a bullet of bread and a pinch of the salt in the gold box, and put the bullet into the puppy and the puppy died.
That was the kind of a man that Doom was, Herman Basket said. He told how, when Doom got off the steamboat that night, he wore a coat with gold all over it, and he had three gold watches, but Herman Basket said that even after seven years, Doom’s eyes had not changed. He said that Doom’s eyes were just the same as before he went away, before his name was Doom, and he and Herman Basket and my pappy were sleeping on the same pallet and talking at night, as boys will.
Doom’s name was Ikkemotubbe then, and he was not born to be the Man, because Doom’s mother’s brother was the Man, and the Man had a son of his own, as well as a brother. But even then, and Doom no bigger than you are, Herman Basket said that sometimes the Man would look at Doom and he would say: “O Sister’s Son, your eye is a bad eye, like the eye of a bad horse.”
So the Man was not sorry when Doom got to be a young man and said that he would go to New Orleans, Herman Basket said. The Man was getting old then. He used to like to play mumble-peg and to pitch horseshoes both, but now he just liked mumble-peg. So he was not sorry when Doom went away, though he didn’t forget about Doom. Herman Basket said that each summer when the whiskey trader came, the Man would ask him about Doom. “He calls himself David Callicoat now,” the Man would say. “But his name is Ikkemotubbe. You haven’t heard maybe of a David Callicoat getting drowned in the Big River, or killed in the white man’s fight at New Orleans?”
But Herman Basket said they didn’t hear from Doom at all until he had been gone seven years. Then one day Herman Basket and my pappy got a written stick from Doom to meet him at the Big River. Because the steamboat didn’t come up our river any more then. The steamboat was still in our river, but it didn’t go anywhere any more. Herman Basket told how one day during the high water, about three years after Doom went away, the steamboat came and crawled up on a sand-bar and died.
That was how Doom got his second name, the one before Doom. Herman Basket told how four times a year the steamboat would come up our river, and how the People would go to the river and camp and wait to see the steamboat pass, and he said that the white man who told the steamboat where to swim was named David Callicoat. So when Doom told Herman Basket and pappy that he was going to New Orleans, he said, “And I’ll tell you something else. From now on, my name is not Ikkemotubbe. It’s David Callicoat. And some day I’m going to own a steamboat, too.” That was the kind of man that Doom was, Herman Basket said.
So after seven years he sent them the written stick and Herman Basket and pappy took the wagon and went to meet Doom at the Big River, and Doom got off the steamboat with the six black people. “I won them on the steamboat,” Doom said. “You and Craw-ford (my pappy’s name was Crawfish-ford, but usually it was Craw-ford) can divide them.”
“I don’t want them,” Herman Basket said that pappy said.
“Then Herman can have them all,” Doom said.
“I don’t want them either,” Herman Basket said.
“All right,” Doom said. Then Herman Basket said he asked Doom if his name was still David Callicoat, but instead of answering, Doom told one of the black people something in the white man’s talk, and the black man lit a pine knot. Then Herman Basket said they were watching Doom take the puppy from the box and make the bullet of bread and the New Orleans salt which Doom had in the little gold box, when he said that pappy said:
“I believe you said that Herman and I were to divide these black people.”
Then Herman Basket said he saw that one of the black people was a woman.
“You and Herman don’t want them,” Doom said.
“I wasn’t thinking when I said that,” pappy said. “I will take the lot with the woman in it. Herman can have the other three.”
“I don’t want them,” Herman Basket said.
“You can have four, then,” pappy said. “I will take the woman and one other.”
“I don’t want them,” Herman Basket said.
“I will take only the woman,” pappy said. “You can have the other five.”
“I don’t want them,” Herman Basket said.
“You don’t want them, either,” Doom said to pappy. “You said so yourself.”
Then Herman Basket said that the puppy was dead. “You didn’t tell us your new name,” he said to Doom.
“My name is Doom now,” Doom said. “It was given me by a French chief in New Orleans. In French talking, Doo-um; in our talking, Doom.”
“What does it mean?” Herman Basket said.
He said how Doom looked at him for a while. “It means, the Man,” Doom said.
Herman Basket told how they thought about that. He said they stood there in the dark, with the other puppies in the box, the ones that Doom hadn’t used, whimpering and scuffing, and the light of the pine knot shining on the eyeballs of the black people and on Doom’s gold coat and on the puppy that had died.
“You cannot be the Man,” Herman Basket said. “You are only on the sister’s side. And the Man has a brother and a son.”
“That’s right,” Doom said. “But if I were the Man, I would give Craw-ford those black people. I would give Herman something, too. For every black man I gave Craw-ford, I would give Herman a horse, if I were Man.”
“Craw-ford only wants this woman,” Herman Basket said.
“I would give Herman six horses, anyway,” Doom said. “But maybe the Man has already given Herman a horse.”
“No,” Herman Basket said. “My ghost is still walking.”
It took them three days to reach the Plantation. They camped on the road at night. Herman Basket said that they did not talk.
They reached the Plantation on the third day. He said that the Man was not very glad to see Doom, even though Doom brought a present of candy for the Man’s son. Doom had something for all his kinsfolk, even for the Man’s brother. The Man’s brother lived by himself in a cabin by the creek. His name was Sometimes-Wakeup. Sometimes the People took him food. The rest of the time they didn’t see him. Herman Basket told how he and pappy went with Doom to visit Sometimes-Wakeup in his cabin. It was at night, and Doom told Herman Basket to close the door. Then Doom took the puppy from pappy and set it on the floor and made a bullet of bread and the New Orleans salt for Sometimes-Wakeup to see how it worked. When they left, Herman Basket said how Sometimes-Wakeup burned a stick and covered his head with the blanket.
That was the first night that Doom was at home. On the next day Herman Basket told how the Man began to act strange at his food, and died before the doctor could get there and burn sticks. When the Willow-Bearer went to fetch the Man’s son and tell him that he was to be the Man, they found that he had acted strange and then died too.
“Now Sometimes-Wakeup will have to be the Man,” pappy said.
So the Willow-Bearer went to fetch Sometimes-Wakeup to come and be the Man. The Willow-Bearer came back soon. “Sometimes-Wakeup does not want to be the Man,” the Willow-Bearer said. “He is sitting in his cabin with his head in his blanket.”
“Then Ikkemotubbe will have to be the Man,” pappy said.
So Doom was the Man. But Herman Basket said that pappy’s ghost would not be easy. Herman Basket said he told pappy to give Doom a little time. “I am still walking,” Herman Basket said.
“But this is a serious matter with me,” pappy said.
He said that at last pappy went to Doom, before the Man and his son had entered the earth, before the eating and the horse-racing were over. “What woman?” Doom said.
“You said that when you were the Man,” pappy said. Herman Basket said that Doom looked at pappy but that pappy was not looking at Doom.
“I think you don’t trust me,” Doom said. Herman Basket said how pappy did not look at Doom. “I think you still believe that that puppy was sick,” Doom said. “Think about it.”
Herman Basket said that pappy thought.
“What do you think now?” Doom said.
But Herman Basket said that pappy still did not look at Doom. “I think it was a well dog,” pappy said.
At last the eating and the horse-racing were over and the Man and his son had entered the earth. Then Doom said, “Tomorrow we will go and fetch the steamboat.” Herman Basket told how Doom had been talking about the steamboat ever since he became Man, and about how the House was not big enough. So that evening Doom said, “Tomorrow we will go and fetch the steamboat that died in the river.”
Herman Basket said how the steamboat was twelve miles away, and that it could not even swim in the water. So the next morning there was no one in the Plantation except Doom and the black people. He told how it took Doom all that day to find the People. Doom used the dogs, and he found some of the People in hollow logs in the creek bottom. That night he made all the men sleep in the House. He kept the dogs in the House, too.
Herman Basket told how he heard Doom and pappy talking in the dark. “I don’t think you trust me,” Doom said.
“I trust you,” pappy said.
“That is what I would advise,” Doom said.
“I wish you could advise that to my ghost,” pappy said.
The next morning they went to the steamboat. The women and the black people walked. The men rode in the wagons, with Doom following behind with the dogs.
The steamboat was lying on its side on the sand-bar. When they came to it, there were three white men on it. “Now we can go back home,” pappy said.
But Doom talked to the white men. “Does this steamboat belong to you?” Doom said.
“It does not belong to you,” the white men said. And though they had guns, Herman Basket said they did not look like men who would own a boat.
“Shall we kill them?” he said to Doom. But he said that Doom was still talking to the men on the steamboat.
“What will you take for it?” Doom said.
“What will you give for it?” the white men said.
“It is dead,” Doom said. “It’s not worth much.”
“Will you give ten black people?” the white men said.
“All right,” Doom said. “Let the black people who came with me from the Big River come forward.” They came forward, the five men and the woman. “Let four more black people come forward.” Four more came forward. “You are now to eat of the corn of those white men yonder,” Doom said. “May it nourish you.” The white men went away, the ten black people following them. “Now,” Doom said, “let us make the steamboat get up and walk.”
Herman Basket said that he and pappy did not go into the river with the others, because pappy said to go aside and talk. They went aside. Pappy talked, but Herman Basket said that he said he did not think it was right to kill white men, but pappy said how they could fill the white men with rocks and sink them in the river and nobody would find them. So Herman Basket said they overtook the three white men and the ten black people, then they turned back toward the boat. Just before they came to the steamboat, pappy said to the black men: “Go on to the Man. Go and help make the steamboat get up and walk. I will take this woman on home.”
“This woman is my wife,” one of the black men said. “I want her to stay with me.”
“Do you want to be arranged in the river with rocks in your inside too?” pappy said to the black man.
“Do you want to be arranged in the river yourself?” the black man said to pappy. “There are two of you, and nine of us.”
Herman Basket said that pappy thought. Then pappy said, “Let us go to the steamboat and help the Man.”
They went to the steamboat. But Herman Basket said that Doom did not notice the ten black people until it was time to return to the Plantation. Herman Basket told how Doom looked at the black people, then looked at pappy. “It seems that the white men did not want these black people,” Doom said.
“So it seems,” pappy said.
“The white men went away, did they?” Doom said.
“So it seems,” pappy said.
Herman Basket told how every night Doom would make all the men sleep in the House, with the dogs in the House too, and how each morning they would return to the steamboat in the wagons. The wagons would not hold everybody, so after the second day the women stayed at home. But it was three days before Doom noticed that pappy was staying at home too. Herman Basket said that the woman’s husband may have told Doom. “Craw-ford hurt his back lifting the steamboat,” Herman Basket said he told Doom. “He said he would stay at the Plantation and sit with his feet in the Hot Spring so that the sickness in his back could return to the earth.”
“That is a good idea,” Doom said. “He has been doing this for three days, has he? Then the sickness should be down in his legs by now.”
When they returned to the Plantation that night, Doom sent for pappy. He asked pappy if the sickness had moved. Pappy said how the sickness moved very slow. “You must sit in the Spring more,” Doom said.
“That is what I think,” pappy said.
“Suppose you sit in the Spring at night too,” Doom said.
“The night air will make it worse,” pappy said.
“Not with a fire there,” Doom said. “I will send one of the black people with you to keep the fire burning.”
“Which one of the black people?” pappy said.
“The husband of the woman which I won on the steamboat,” Doom said.
“I think my back is better,” pappy said.
“Let us try it,” Doom said.
“I know my back is better,” pappy said.
“Let us try it, anyway,” Doom said. Just before dark Doom sent four of the People to fix pappy and the black man at the Spring. Herman Basket said the People returned quickly. He said that as they entered the House, pappy entered also.
“The sickness began to move suddenly,” pappy said. “It has reached my feet since noon today.”
“Do you think it will be gone by morning?” Doom said.
“I think so,” pappy said.
“Perhaps you had better sit in the Spring tonight and make sure,” Doom said.
“I know it will be gone by morning,” pappy said.
When it got to be summer, Herman Basket said that the steamboat was out of the river bottom. It had taken them five months to get it out of the bottom, because they had to cut down the trees to make a path for it. But now he said the steamboat could walk faster on the logs. He told how pappy helped. Pappy had a certain place on one of the ropes near the steamboat that nobody was allowed to take, Herman Basket said. It was just under the front porch of the steamboat where Doom sat in his chair, with a boy with a branch to shade him and another boy with a branch to drive away the flying beasts. The dogs rode on the boat too.
In the summer, while the steamboat was still walking, Herman Basket told how the husband of the woman came to Doom again. “I have done what I could for you,” Doom said. “Why don’t you go to Craw-ford and adjust this matter yourself?”
The black man said that he had done that. He said that pappy said to adjust it by a cock-fight, pappy’s cock against the black man’s, the winner to have the woman, the one who refused to fight to lose by default. The black man said he told pappy he did not have a cock, and that pappy said that in that case the black man lost by default and that the woman belonged to pappy. “And what am I to do?” the black man said.
Doom thought. Then Herman Basket said that Doom called to him and asked him which was pappy’s best cock and Herman Basket told Doom that pappy had only one. “That black one?” Doom said. Herman Basket said he told Doom that was the one. “Ah,” Doom said. Herman Basket told how Doom sat in his chair on the porch of the steamboat while it walked, looking down at the People and the black men pulling the ropes, making the steamboat walk. “Go and tell Craw-ford you have a cock,” Doom said to the black man. “Just tell him you will have a cock in the pit. Let it be tomorrow morning. We will let the steamboat sit down and rest.” The black man went away. Then Herman Basket said that Doom was looking at him, and that he did not look at Doom. Because he said there was but one better cock in the Plantation than pappy’s, and that one belonged to Doom. “I think that that puppy was not sick,” Doom said. “What do you think?”
Herman Basket said that he did not look at Doom. “That is what I think,” he said.
“That is what I would advise,” Doom said.
Herman Basket told how the next day the steamboat sat and rested. The pit was in the stable. The People and the black people were there. Pappy had his cock in the pit. Then the black man put his cock into the pit. Herman Basket said that pappy looked at the black man’s cock.
“This cock belongs to Ikkemotubbe,” pappy said.
“It is his,” the People told pappy. “Ikkemotubbe gave it to him with all to witness.”
Herman Basket said that pappy had already picked up his cock. “This is not right,” pappy said. “We ought not to let him risk his wife on a cock-fight.”
“Then you withdraw?” the black man said.
“Let me think,” pappy said. He thought. The People watched. The black man reminded pappy of what he had said about defaulting. Pappy said he did not mean to say that and that he withdrew it. The People told him that he could only withdraw by forfeiting the match. Herman Basket said that pappy thought again. The People watched. “All right,” pappy said. “But I am being taken advantage of.”
The cocks fought. Pappy’s cock fell. Pappy took it up quickly. Herman Basket said it was like pappy had been waiting for his cock to fall so he could pick it quickly up. “Wait,” he said. He looked at the People. “Now they have fought. Isn’t that true?” The People said that it was true. “So that settles what I said about forfeiting.”
Herman Basket said that pappy began to get out of the pit.
“Aren’t you going to fight?” the black man said.
“I don’t think this will settle anything,” pappy said. “Do you?”
Herman Basket told how the black man looked at pappy. Then he quit looking at pappy. He was squatting. Herman Basket said the People looked at the black man looking at the earth between his feet. They watched him take up a clod of dirt, and then they watched the dust come out between the black man’s fingers. “Do you think that this will settle anything?” pappy said.
“Neither do I,” pappy said. “It would not be right to risk your wife on a cock-fight.”
Herman Basket told how the black man looked up, with the dry dust about the fingers of his hand. He said the black man’s eyes looked red in the dark pit, like the eyes of a fox. “Will you let the cocks fight again?” the black man said.
“Do you agree that it doesn’t settle anything?” pappy said.
“Yes,” the black man said.
Pappy put his cock back into the ring. Herman Basket said that pappy’s cock was dead before it had time to act strange, even. The black man’s cock stood upon it and started to crow, but the black man struck the live cock away and he jumped up and down on the dead cock until it did not look like a cock at all, Herman Basket said.
Then it was fall, and Herman Basket told how the steamboat came to the Plantation and stopped beside the House and died again. He said that for two months they had been in sight of the Plantation, making the steamboat walk on the logs, but now the steamboat was beside the House and the House was big enough to please Doom. He gave an eating. It lasted a week. When it was over, Herman Basket told how the black man came to Doom a third time. Herman Basket said that the black man’s eyes were red again, like those of a fox, and that they could hear his breathing in the room. “Come to my cabin,” he said to Doom. “I have something to show you.”
“I thought it was about that time,” Doom said. He looked about the room, but Herman Basket told Doom that pappy had just stepped out. “Tell him to come also,” Doom said. When they came to the black man’s cabin, Doom sent two of the People to fetch pappy. Then they entered the cabin. What the black man wanted to show Doom was a new man.
“Look,” the black man said. “You are the Man. You are to see justice done.”
“What is wrong with this man?” Doom said.
“Look at the color of him,” the black man said. He began to look around the cabin. Herman Basket said that his eyes went red and then brown and then red, like those of a fox. He said they could hear the black man’s breathing. “Do I get justice?” the black man said. “You are the Man.”
“You should be proud of a fine yellow man like this,” Doom said. He looked at the new man. “I don’t see that justice can darken him any,” Doom said. He looked about the cabin also. “Come forward, Craw-ford,” he said “This is a man, not a copper snake; he will not harm you.” But Herman Basket said that pappy would not come forward. He said the black man’s eyes went red and then brown and then red when he breathed. “Yao,” Doom said, “this is not right. Any man is entitled to have his melon patch protected from these wild bucks of the woods. But first let us name this man.” Doom thought. Herman Basket said the black man’s eyes went quieter now, and his breath went quieter too. “We will call him Had-Two-Fathers,” Doom said.
Sam Fathers lit his pipe again. He did it deliberately, rising and lifting between thumb and forefinger from his forge a coal of fire. Then he came back and sat down. It was getting late. Caddy and Jason had come back from the creek, and I could see Grandfather and Mr. Stokes talking beside the carriage, and at that moment, as though he had felt my gaze, Grandfather turned and called my name.
“What did your pappy do then?” I said.
“He and Herman Basket built the fence,” Sam Fathers said. “Herman Basket told how Doom made them set two posts into the ground, with a sapling across the top of them. The nigger and pappy were there. Doom had not told them about the fence then. Herman Basket said it was just like when he and pappy and Doom were boys, sleeping on the same pallet, and Doom would wake them at night and make them get up and go hunting with him, or when he would make them stand up with him and fight with their fists, just for fun, until Herman Basket and pappy would hide from Doom.
“They fixed the sapling across the two posts and Doom said to the nigger: ‘This is a fence. Can you climb it?’
“Herman Basket said the nigger put his hand on the sapling and sailed over it like a bird.
“Then Doom said to pappy: ‘Climb this fence.’
“ ‘This fence is too high to climb,’ pappy said.
“ ‘Climb this fence, and I will give you the woman,’ Doom said.
“Herman Basket said pappy looked at the fence a while. ‘Let me go under this fence,’ he said.
“ ‘No,’ Doom said.
“Herman Basket told me how pappy began to sit down on the ground. ‘It’s not that I don’t trust you,’ pappy said.
“ ‘We will build the fence this high,’ Doom said.
“ ‘What fence?’ Herman Basket said.
“ ‘The fence around the cabin of this black man,’ Doom said.
“ ‘I can’t build a fence I couldn’t climb,’ pappy said.
“ ‘Herman will help you,’ Doom said.
“Herman Basket said it was just like when Doom used to wake them and make them go hunting. He said the dogs found him and pappy about noon the next day, and that they began the fence that afternoon. He told me how they had to cut the saplings in the creek bottom and drag them in by hand, because Doom would not let them use the wagon. So sometimes one post would take them three or four days. ‘Never mind,’ Doom said. “You have plenty of time. And the exercise will make Craw-ford sleep at night.’
“He told me how they worked on the fence all that winter and all the next summer, until after the whiskey trader had come and gone. Then it was finished. He said that on the day they set the last post, the nigger came out of the cabin and put his hand on the top of a post (it was a palisade fence, the posts set upright in the ground) and flew out like a bird. ‘This is a good fence,’ the nigger said. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘I have something to show you,’ Herman Basket said he flew back over the fence again and went into the cabin and came back. Herman Basket said that he was carrying a new man and that he held the new man up so they could see it above the fence. ‘What do you think about this for color?’ he said.”
Grandfather called me again. This time I got up. The sun was already down beyond the peach orchard. I was just twelve then, and to me the story did not seem to have got anywhere, to have had point or end. Yet I obeyed Grandfather’s voice, not that I was tired of Sam Fathers’ talking, but with that immediacy of children with which they flee temporarily something which they do not quite understand; that, and the instinctive promptness with which we all obeyed Grandfather, not from concern of impatience or reprimand, but because we all believed that he did fine things, that his waking life passed from one fine (if faintly grandiose) picture to another.
They were in the surrey, waiting for me. I got in; the horses moved at once, impatient too for the stable. Caddy had one fish, about the size of a chip, and she was wet to the waist. We drove on, the team already trotting. When we passed Mr. Stokes’ kitchen we could smell ham cooking. The smell followed us on to the gate. When we turned onto the road home it was almost sundown. Then we couldn’t smell the cooking ham any more. “What were you and Sam talking about?” Grandfather said.
We went on, in that strange, faintly sinister suspension of twilight in which I believed that I could still see Sam Fathers back there, sitting on his wooden block, definite, immobile, and complete, like something looked upon after a long time in a preservative bath in a museum. That was it. I was just twelve then, and I would have to wait until I had passed on and through and beyond the suspension of twilight. Then I knew that I would know. But then Sam Fathers would be dead.
“Nothing, sir,” I said. “We were just talking.”