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THE SEVENTH DAY

 

And the Spirit and the bride say,Come. And let him that heareth sayCome. And let him that is athirstcome. And whosoever will, let himtake the water of life freely.

I looked down the line,

And I wondered

 

Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It has been so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself. Not until the morning of his fourteenth birthday did he really begin to think about it, and by then it was already too late.

His earliest memories—which were in a way, his only memories—were of the hurry and brightness of Sunday mornings. They all rose together on that day; his father, who did not have to go to work, and led them in prayer before breakfast; his mother, who dressed up on that day, and looked almost young, with her hair straightened, and on her head the close-fitting white cap that was the uniform of holy women; his younger brother, Roy, who was silent that day because his father was home. Sarah, who wore a red ribbon in her hair that day, and was fondled by her father. And the baby, Ruth, who was dressed in pink and white, and rode in her mother’s arms to church.

The church was not very far away, four block up Lenox Avenue, on a corner not far from the hospital. It was to this hospital that his mother had gone when Roy, and Sarah, and Ruth were born. John did not remember very clearly the first time she had gone, to have Roy; folks said that he had cried and carried on the whole time his mother was away; he remembered only enough to be afraid every time her belly began to swell, knowing that each time the swelling began it would not end until she was taken from him, to come back with an stranger. Each time this happened she became a little more of a stranger herself. She would soon be going away again, Roy said—he knew much more about such things than John. John had observed his mother closely, seeing no swelling yet, but his father had prayed one morning for the ‘little voyager soon to be among them,’ and so John knew that Roy spoke the truth.

Every Sunday morning, then, since John could remember, they had taken to the Streets, the Grimes family on their way to church. Sinners along the avenue watched tem—men still wearing their Sunday-night clothes, wrinkled and dusty now, muddy-eyed and muddy-faced; and the women with harsh voices and tight, bright dresses, cigarettes between their finger or held tightly in the corners of their mouths. They talked, and laughed, and fought together, and the women fought like the men. John and Roy, passing these men and women, looked at one another briefly, John embarrassed and Roy amused. Roy would be like them when he grew up, if the Lord did not change his heart. These men and women they passed on Sunday mornings had spent the night in bars, or in cat houses, or on the streets, or on the rooftops, or under the stairs. They had been drinking. They had gone from cursing to laughter, to anger, to lust. Once he and Roy had watched a man and woman in the basement of a condemned house. They did it standing up. The woman had wanted fifty cents, and the man had flashed a razor.



John had never watched again; he had been afraid. But Roy had watched them many times, and he told John he had done it with some girls down the block.

And his mother and father, who went to church on Sundays, they did it too, and sometimes John heard them in the bedroom behind him, over the sound of rat’s feet, and rat screams, and the music and cursing from the harlot’s house downstairs.

Their church was called the Temple of the Fire Baptized. It was not the biggest church in Harlem, not yet the smallest, but John had been brought up to believe it was the holiest and best. His father was head deacon in this church—there were only two, the other a round, black man named Deacon Braithwaite—and he took up the collection, and sometimes he preached. The pastor, Father James, was a genial, well-fed man with a face like a darker moon. It was he who preached on Pentecost Sundays, and led revivals in the summer-time, and anointed and healed the sick.

On Sunday mornings and Sunday nights the church was always full; on special Sundays it was full all day. The Grimes family arrived in a body, always a little late, usually in the middle of Sunday school, which began at nine o’clock. This lateness was always their mother’s fault—at least in the eyes of their father; she could not seem to get herself and the children ready on time, ever, and sometimes she actually remained behind, not to appear until the morning service. When they all arrived together, they separated upon entering the doors, father and mother going to sit in the Adult Class, which was taught by Sister McCandless, Sarah going to the Infants’ Class, John and Roy sitting in the Intermediate, which was taught by Brother Elisha.

When he was young, John had paid no attention in Sunday school, and always forgot the golden text, which earned him the wrath of his father. Around the time of his fourteenth birthday, with all the pressures of church and home uniting to drive him to the altar, he strove to appear more serious and therefore less conspicuous. But he was distracted by his new teacher, Elisha, who was the pastor’s nephew and who had but lately arrived from Georgia. He was not much older than John, only seventeen, and he was already saved and was a preacher. John stared at Elisha all during the lesson, admiring the timbre of Elisha’s voice, much deeper and manlier than his own, admiring the leanness, and grace, and strength, and darkness of Elisha in his Sunday suit, wondering if he would ever be holy as Elisha was holy. But he did not follow the lesson, and when, sometimes, Elisha paused to ask John a question, John was ashamed and confused, feeling the palms of his hands become wet and his heart pound like a hammer. Elisha would smile and reprimand him gently, and the lesson would go on.

Roy never knew his Sunday school lesson either, but it was different with Roy—no one really expected of Roy what was expected of John. Everyone was always praying that the Lord would change Roy’s heart, but it was John who was expected to be good, to be a good example.

When Sunday school service ended there was a short pause before morning service began. In this pause, if it was good weather, the old folks might step outside a moment to talk among themselves. The sisters would almost always be dressed in white from crown to tow. The small children, on this day, in this place, and oppressed by their elders, tried hard to play without seeming to be disrespectful of God’s house. But sometimes, nervous or perverse, they shouted, or threw hymn-books, or began to cry, putting their parents, men or women of God, under the necessity of proving—by harsh means or tender—who, in a sanctified household, ruled. The older children, like John or Roy, might wander down the avenue, but not too far. Their father never let John and Roy out of his sight, for Roy had often disappeared between Sunday school and morning service and has not come back all day.

The Sunday morning service began when Brother Elisha sat down at the piano and raised a song. This moment and this music had been with John, so it seemed, since he had first drawn breath. It seemed that there had never been a time when he had not known this moment of waiting while the packed church paused—the sisters in white, heads raised, the brothers in blue, heads back; the white caps of the women seeming to glow in the charged air like crowns, the kinky, gleaming heads of the men seeming to be lifted up—and the rustling and the whispering ceased and the children were quiet; perhaps someone coughed, or the sound of a car horn, or a curse from the streets came in; the Elisha hit the keys, beginning at once to sing, and everybody joined him, clapping their hands, and rising, and beating the tambourines.

The song might be: Down at the cross where my Savior died!

Or: Jesus, I’ll never forget how you set me free!

Or: Lord, hold my hand while I run this race!

They sang with all the strength that was in them, and clapped their hands for joy. There had never been a time when John had not sat watching the saints rejoice with terror in his heart, and wonder. Their singing caused him to believe in the presence of the Lord; indeed, it was no longer a question of belief, because they made that presence real. He did not feel it himself, the joy they felt, yet he could not doubt that it was, for them, the very bread of life—could not doubt it, that is, until it was too late to doubt. Something happened to their faces and their voices, the rhythm of their bodies, and to the air they breathed; it was as though wherever they might be became the upper room, and the Holy Ghost were riding on the air. His father’s face, always awful, became more awful now; his father’s daily anger was transformed into prophetic wrath. His mother, her eyes raised to heaven, hands arked before her, moving, made real for John that patience, that endurance, that long suffering, which he had read of in the Bible and found so hard to imagine.

On Sunday mornings the women all seemed patient, all the men seemed mighty. While John watched, the Power struck someone, a man or woman; they cried out, a long, wordless crying, and, arms outstretched like wings, they began the Shout. Someone moved a chair a little to give them room, the rhythm paused, the singing stopped, only the pounding feet and the clapping hands were heard; then another cry, another dancer; then the tambourines began again, and the voices rose again, and the music swept on again, like fire, or flood, or judgment. Then the church seemed to swell with the Power it held, and, like a planet rocking in space, the temple rocked with the Power of God. John watched, watched the faces, and the weightless bodies, and listened to the timeless cries. One day, so everyone said, this Power would possess him; he would sing and cry as they did now, and dance before his King. He watched young Ella Mae Washington, the seventeen-year-old granddaughter of Praying Mother Washington, as she began to dance. And then Elisha danced.

At one moment, head thrown back, eyes closed, sweat standing on his brow, he sat at the piano, singing and playing; and then, like a great black cat in trouble in the jungle, he stiffened and trembled, and cried out. Jesus, Jesus, oh Lord Jesus! He struck on the piano one last wild note, and threw up his hands, palms upward, stretched wide apart. The tambourines raced to fill the vacuum left by his silent piano, and his cry drew answering cries. Then he was on his feet, turning, blind, his face congested, contorted with this rage, and the muscles leaping ands swelling in his long, dark neck. It seemed that he could not breathe, that his body could not contain this passion, that he would be, before their eyes, dispersed into the waiting air. His hand, rigid to the very fingertips, moved outward and back against his hips, his sightless eyes looked upward, and he began to dance. Then his hands close into fists, and his head snapped downward, his sweat loosening the grease that slicked down his hair; and the rhythm of all the others quickened to match Elisha’s rhythm; his thighs moved terribly against the cloth of his suit, his heels beat on the floor, and his fists moved beside his body as though he were beating his own drum. And so, for a while, in the centre of the dancers, head down, fists beating, on, on, unbearably, until it seemed the walls of the church would fall for very sound; and then, in a moment, with a cry, head up, arms high in the air, sweat pouring from his forehead, and all his body dancing as though it would never stop. Sometimes he did not stop until he fell—until he dropped like some animal felled by a hammer—moaning, on his face. And then a great moaning filled the church.

There was sin among them. One Sunday, when regular service was over, Father James had uncovered sin in the congregation of the righteous. He had uncovered Elisha and Ella Mae. They had been ‘walking disorderly’; they were in danger of straying from the truth. And as Father James spoke of the sin that he knew they had not committed yet, of the unripe fig plucked too early from the tree—to set the children’s teeth on edge—John felt himself grow dizzy in his seat and could not look at Elisha where he stood, beside Ella Mae, before the altar. Elisha hung his head as Father James spoke, and the congregation murmured. And Ella Mae was not so beautiful now as she was when she was singing and testifying, but looked like a sullen, ordinary girl. Her full lips were loose and her eyes were black—with shame, or rage, or both. Her grandmother, who had raised her, sat watching quietly, with folded hands. She was one of the pillars of the church, a powerful evangelist and very widely known. She said nothing in Ella Mae’s defense, for she must have felt, as the congregation felt, that Father James was only exercising his clear and painful duty; he was responsible, after all, for Elisha, as Praying Mother Washington was responsible for Ella Mae. It was not an easy thing, said Father James, to be the pastor of a flock. It might look easy to just sit up there in the pulpit night after night, year in, year out, but let them remember the awful responsibility placed on his shoulders by almighty God—let them remember that God would ask an accounting of him one day for every soul in his flock. Let them remember this when they though he was hard, let them remember that the Word was hard, that the way of holiness was a hard way. There was no room in God’s army for the coward heart, no crown awaiting him who put mother, or father, sister, or brother, sweetheart, or friend above God’s will. Let the church cry amen to this! And they cried: ‘Amen! Amen!’

The Lord had led him, said Father James, looking down on the boy and girl before him, to give them a public warning before it was too late. For he knew them to be sincere young people, dedicate to the service of the Lord—it was only that, since they were young, they did not know the pitfall Satan laid for the unwary. He knew that sin was not in their minds—not yet; yet sin was in the flesh; and should they continue with their walking out alone together, their secrets and laughter, and touching of hands, they would surely sin a sin beyond all forgiveness. And John wondered what Elisha was thinking—Elisha , who was tall and handsome, who played basket-ball, and who had been saved at the age of eleven in the improbable fields down south. Had he sinned? Had he been tempted? And the girl beside him, whose white robes now seemed the merest, thinnest covering for the nakedness of breasts and insistent thighs—what was her face like when she was alone with Elisha, with no singing, when they were not surrounded by the saints? He was afraid to think of it, yet he could think of nothing else; and the fever of which they stood accused began also to rage him.

After this Sunday Elisha and Ella Mae no longer met each other each day after school, no longer spent Saturday afternoons wandering through Central Park, or lying on the beach. All that was over for them. If they came together again it would be in wedlock. They would have children and raise them in the church.

This was what was meant by a holy life, this was what the way of the cross demanded. It was somehow on that Sunday, a Sunday shortly before his birthday, that John first realized that this was the life awaiting him—realized it consciously, as something no longer far off, but imminent, coming closer day by day.


John’s birthday fell on a Sunday in March, in 1935. He awoke on this birthday morning with the feeling that there was menace in the air around him—that something irrevocable had occurred in him. He stared at a yellow stain on the ceiling just above his head. Roy was still smothered in the bedclothes, and his breath came and went with a small, whistling sound. There was no other sound anywhere; no one in the house was up. The neighbors’ radios were all silent, and his mother hadn’t yet risen to fix his father’s breakfast. John wondered at his panic, then wondered about the time; and then (while the yellow stain on the ceiling slowly transformed itself into a woman’s nakedness) he remembered that it was his fourteenth birthday and that he had sinned.

His first thought, nevertheless, was: ‘Will anyone remember?’ For it had happened, once or twice, that his birthday had passed entirely unnoticed, and no one had said ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny,’ or given him anything—not even his mother.

Roy stirred again and John pushed him away, listening to the silence. On other mornings he awoke hearing his mother singing in the kitchen, hearing his father in the bedroom behind him grunting and muttering prayers to himself as he put on his clothes; hearing, perhaps, the chatter of Sarah and the squalling of Ruth, and the radios, the clatter of pots and pans, and the voices of all the folk nearby. This morning not even the cry of a bedspring disturbed the silence, and John seemed, therefore, to be listening to his own unspeaking doom. He could believe, almost, that he had awakened late on that great getting-up morning; that all the saved had been transformed in the twinkling of an eye, and had risen to meet Jesus in the clouds, and that he was left, with his sinful body, to be bound in hell a thousand years.

He had sinned. In spite of the saints, his mother and his father, the warning he had heard from his earliest beginnings, he had sinned with his hands a sin that was hard to forgive. In the school lavatory, alone, thinking of the boys, older, bigger, braver, who made bets with each other as to whose urine could arch higher, he had watched in himself a transformation of which he would never dare to speak.

And the darkness of John’s sin was like the darkness of the church on Saturday evenings; like the silence of the church while he was there alone, sweeping, and running water into the great bucket, and overturning chairs, long before the saints arrived. It was like his thoughts as he moved about the tabernacle in which his life had been spent; the tabernacle hated, yet loved and feared. It was like Roy’s curses, like the echoes these curses raised in John: he remembered Roy, on some rare Saturday when he had come to help John clean the church, cursing in the house of God, and making obscene gestures before the eyes of Jesus. It was like all this, and it was like the walls that witnessed and the placards on the walls which testified that the wages of sin was death. The darkness of his sin was in the hardheartedness with which he resisted God’s power; in the scorn that was often his while he listened to the crying, breaking voices, and watched the black skin glisten while they lifted up their arms and fell on their faces before the Lord. For he had made his decision. He would not be like his father, or his father’s fathers. He would have another life.

For John excelled in school, though not, like Elisha, in mathematics or basket-ball, and it was said that he had a Great Future. He might become a Great Leader of His People. John was not much interested in His people and still less in leading them anywhere, but the phrase so often repeated rose in his mind like a great brass gate, opening outward for him on a world where people did not live in the darkness of his father’s house, did not pray to Jesus in the darkness of his father’s church, where he would eat good food, and wear fine clothes, and go to the movies as often as he wished. In this world John, who was, his father said, ugly, who was always the smallest boy in his class, and who had no friends, became immediately beautiful, tall, and popular. People fell all over themselves to meet John Grimes. He was a poet, or a college president, or a movie star; he drank expensive whisky, and he smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes in the green package.

It was not only colored people who praised John, since they could not, John felt, in any case really know; but white people also said it, in fact had said it first and said it still. It was when John was five years old and in the first grade that he was first noticed; and since he was noticed by an eye altogether alien and impersonal, he began to perceive, in wild uneasiness, his individual existence.

They were learning the alphabet that day, and six children at a time were sent to the blackboard to write the letters they had memorized. Six had finished and were waiting for the teacher’s judgment when the back door opened and the school principal, of whom everyone was terrified, entered the room, No one spoke or moved. In the silence the principal’s voice said:

‘Which child is that?’

She was pointing to the blackboard, at John’s letters. The possibility of being distinguished by her notice did not enter John’s mind, and so he simply stared at her. Then he realized, by the immobility of the other children and by the way they avoided looking at him, that it was he who was selected for punishment.

“Speak up, John,’ said the teacher, gently.

On the edge of tears, he mumbled his name and waited. The principal, a woman with white hair and an iron face, looked down at him.

‘You’re a very bright boy, John Grimes,’ she said. ‘Keep up the good work.’

Then she walked out of the room.

That moment gave him, from that time on, if not a weapon at least a shield; he apprehended totally, without belief or understanding, that he had in himself a power that other people lacked; that he could use this to save himself, to raise himself; and that, perhaps, with this power he might one day win that love which he so longed for. This was not, in John, a faith subject to death or alteration, nor yet a hope subject to destruction; it was his identity, and part, therefore, of that wickedness for which his father beat him and to which he clung in order to withstand his father. His father’s arm, rising and falling, might make him cry, and that voice might cause him to tremble; yet his father could never be entirely the victor, for John cherished something that his father could not reach. It was his hatred and his intelligence that he cherished, the one feeding the other. He lived for the day when his father would be dying and he, John, would curse him on his death-bed. And this was why, though he had been born in faith and had been surrounded all his life by the saints and by their prayers and their rejoicing, and though the tabernacle in which they worshipped was more completely real to him that the several precarious homes in which he and his family had lived, John’s heart was hardened against the Lord. His father was God’s minister, the ambassador of the King of Heaven, and John could not bow before the throne of grace without first kneeling to his father. On his refusal to do this had his life depended, and John’s secret heart had flourished in its wickedness until the day his sin first overtook him.


In the midst of all his wonderings he fell asleep again, and when he woke up this time and got out of bed his father had gone to the factory, where he would work for half a day. Roy was sitting in the kitchen, quarrelling with their mother. The baby, Ruth, sat in her high chair banging on the tray with an oatmeal-covered spoon. This meant that she was in a good mood; she would not spend the day howling, for reasons known only to herself, allowing no one but her mother to touch her. Sarah was quiet, not chattering to-day, or at any rate not yet, and stood near the stove, arms folded, staring at Roy with the flat black eyes, her father’s eyes, that made her look so old.

Their mother, her head tied up in an old rag, sipped black coffee and watched Roy. The pale end-of-winter sunlight filled the room and yellowed all their faces; and John, drugged and morbid and wondering how it was that he had slept again and had been allowed to sleep so long, saw them for a moment like figures on a screen, an effect that the yellow light intensified. The room was narrow and dirty; nothing could alter its dimensions, no labor could ever make it clean. Dirt was in the walls and the floorboards, and triumphed beneath the sink where the cockroaches spawned; was in the fine ridges of the pots and pans, scoured daily, burnt black on the bottom, hanging above the stove; was in the wall against which they hung, and revealed itself where the paint had cracked and leaned outward in stiff squares and fragments, the paper-thin underside webbed with black. Dirt was in every corner, angle, crevice of the monstrous stove, and lived behind it in delirious communion with the corrupted wall. Dirt was in the baseboard that John scrubbed every Sunday, and roughened the cupboard shelves that held the cracked and gleaming dishes. Under this dark weight the walls leaned, under it the ceiling, with a great crack like lightning in its center, sagged. The windows gleamed like beaten gold or silver, but now John saw, in the yellow light, how fine dust veiled their doubtful glory. Dirt crawled in the gray mop hung out of the windows to dry. John thought with shame and horror, yet in angry hardness of heart: He who is filthy, let him be filthy still. Then he looked at his mother, seeing, as though she were someone else, the dark, hard lines running downward from her eyes, and the deep, perpetual scowl in her forehead, and the downturned, tightened mouth, and the strong, thin, brown, and bony hands; and the phrase turned against him like a two-edged sword, for was it not he, in his false pride and his evil imagination, who was filthy? Through a storm of tears that did not reach his eyes, he stared at the yellow room; and the room shifted, the light of the sun darkened, and his mother’s face changed. He face became the face that he gave her in his dreams, the face that had been hers in a photograph he had seen once, long ago, a photograph taken before he was born. This face was young and proud, uplifted, with a smile that made the wide mouth beautiful and glowed in the enormous eyes. It was the face of a girl who knew that no evikl could undo her, and who could laugh, surely, as his mother did not laugh now. Between the two faces there stretched a darkness and a mystery that John feared, and that sometimes caused him to hate her.

Now she saw him and she asked, breaking off her conversation with Roy: ‘You hungry, little sleepyhead?’

‘Well! About time you was getting up,’ said Sarah.

He moved to the table and sat down, feeling the most bewildering panic of his life, a need to touch things, the table and chairs and the walls of the room, to make certain that the room existed and that he was in the room. He did not look at his mother, who stood up and went to the stove to heat his breakfast. But he asked, in order to say something to her, and to hear his own voice:

‘What we got for breakfast?’

He realized, with some shame, that he was hoping she had prepared a special breakfast for him on his birthday.

‘What you think we got for breakfast?’ Roy asked scornfully. ‘You got a special craving for something?’

John looked at him. Roy was not in a good mood.

‘I ain’t said nothing to you,’ he said.

‘Oh, I beg your pardon,’ said Roy, in the shrill, little-girl tone he knew John hated.

‘What’s the matter with you to-day?’ John asked, angry, and trying at the same time to lend his voice as husky a pitch as possible.

‘Don’t you let Roy bother you,’ said their mother. ‘He cross as two sticks this morning.’

‘Yeah,’ said John, ‘I reckon.’ He and Roy watched each other. Then his plate was put before him: hominy grits and a scrap of bacon. He wanted to cry, like a child: ‘But, Mama, it’s my birthday!’ He kept his eyes on his plate and began to eat.

‘You can talk about your Daddy all you want to,’ said his mother, picking up her battle with Roy, ‘but one thing you can’t say—you can’t say he ain’t always done his best to be a father to you and to see to it that you ain’t never gone hungry.’

‘I been hungry plenty of times,’ Roy said, proud to be able to score this point against his mother.

‘Wasn’t his fault, then. Wasn’t because he wasn’t trying to feed you. Than man shoveled snow in zero weather when he ought’ve been in bed just to put food in your belly.’

‘Wasn’t just my belly,’ said Roy indignantly. ‘He got a belly, too, I know—it’s a shame the way that man eats. I sure ain’t asked him to shovel no snow for me.’ But he dropped his eyes, suspecting a flaw in his argument. ‘I just don’t want him beating on me all the time,’ he said at last. ‘I ain’t no dog.’

She sighed, and turned slightly away, looking out of the window. ‘Your Daddy beats you,’ she said, ‘because he loves you.’

Roy laughed. ‘That ain’t the kind of love I understand, old lady. What you reckon he’d do if he didn’t love me?’

‘He’d let you go right on,’ she flashed, ‘right on down to hell where it looks like you is just determined to go anyhow! Right on, Mister Man, till somebody puts a knife in you, or takes you off to jail!’

‘Mama,’ John asked suddenly, ‘is Daddy a good man?’

He had not known that he was going to ask the question, and he watched in astonishment as her mouth tightened and her eyes grew dark.

‘That ain’t no kind of question,’ she said mildly. ‘You don’t know no better men, do you?’

‘Looks to me like he’s a mighty good man,’ said Sarah. ‘He sure is praying all the time.’

‘You children is young,’ their mother said, ignoring Sarah and sitting down again at the table, ‘and you don’t know how lucky you is to have a father what worries about you and tries to see to it that you come up right.’

‘Yeah,’ said Roy, ‘we don’t know how lucky we is to have a father what don’t want you to go to movies, and don’t want you to play in the streets, and don’t want you to have no friends, and he don’t want this and he don’t want that, and he don’t want you to do nothing. We so lucky to have a father who just wants us to go to church and read the Bible and beller like a fool in front of the altar and stay home all nice and quiet, like a little mouse. Boy, we sure is lucky, all right. Don’t know what I done to be so lucky.’

She laughed. ‘You going to find out one day,’ she said, ‘you mark my words.’

‘Yeah,’ said Roy.

‘But it’ll be too late, then,’ she said. ‘It’ll be too late when you come to be … sorry.’ Her voice had changed. For a moment her eyes met John’s eyes, and John was frightened.. He felt that her words, after the strange fashion God sometimes chose to speak to men, were dictated by Heaven and were meant for him. He was fourteen—was it too lat? And thus uneasiness was reinforced by the impression, which at that moment he realized had been his all along, that his mother was not saying everything she meant. What, he wondered, did she say to Aunt Florence when they talked together? Or to his father? What were her thoughts? Her face would never tell. And yet, looking down at him in a moment that was like a secret, passing sign, her face did tell him. Her thoughts were bitter.

‘I don’t care,’ Roy said, rising. ‘When I have children I ain’t going to treat them like this.’ John watched his mother; she watched Roy. ‘I’m sure this ain’t no way to be. Ain’t got no right to have a houseful of children if you don’t know how to treat them.’

‘You mighty grown up this morning,’ his mother said. ‘You be careful.’

‘And tell me something else,’ Roy said, suddenly leaning over his mother, ‘tell me how come he don’t never let me talk to him like I talk to you? He’s my father, ain’t he? But he don’t never listen to me—no, I all the time got to listen to him.’

‘Your father,’ she said, watching him, ‘knows best. You listen to your father, I guarantee you you won’t end up in no jail.’

Roy sucked his teeth in fury. ‘I ain’t looking to go to no jail. You think that’s all that’s in the world is jails and churches? You ought to know better than that, Ma.’

‘I know,’ she said, ‘there ain’t no safety except you walk humble before the Lord. You going to find it out, too, one day. You go on, hardhead. You going to come to grief.’

And suddenly Rot grinned. ‘But you be there, won’t you, Ma—when I’m in trouble?’

‘You don’t know,’ she said, trying not to smile, ‘how long the Lord’s going to let me stay with you.’

Roy turned and did a dance step. ‘That’s all right,’ he said. ‘I know the Lord ain’t as hard as Daddy. Is he, boy?’ he demanded of John, and struck him lightly on the forehead.

‘Boy, let me eat my breakfast,’ John muttered—though his plate had long been empty, and he was pleased that Roy had turned to him.

‘That sure is a crazy boy,’ ventured Sarah, soberly.

‘Just listen,’ cried Roy, ‘to the little saint1 Daddy ain’t never going to have trouble with her—that one, she was born holy. I bet the first words she ever said was: “Thank you, Jesus,” Ain’t that so, Ma?’

‘You stop this foolishness,’ she said, laughing, ‘and go on about your work. Can’t nobody play the fool with you all morning.’

‘Oh, is you got work for me to do this morning? Well, I declare,’ said Roy, ‘what you got for me to do?’

‘I got the woodwork in the dining-room for you to do. And you going to do it, too, before you set foot out of this house.’

‘Now, why you want to talk like that, Ma? Is I said I wouldn’t do it? You know I’m a right good worker when I got a mind. After I do it, can I go?’

‘You go ahead and do it, and we’ll see. You better do it right.’

‘I always do it right,’ said Roy. ‘You won’t know your old woodwork when I get through.’

‘John,’ said his mother, ‘you sweep the front room for me like a good boy, and dust the furniture. I’m going to clean up in here.’

‘Yes’m,’ he said, and rose. She had forgotten about his birthday. He swore he would not mention it. He would not think about it any more.

To sweep the front room meant, principally, to sweep the heavy red and green and purple Oriental-style carpet that had once been that room’s glory, but was now so faded that it was all one swimming color, and so frayed in places that it tangled with the broom. John hated sweeping this carpet, for dust rose, clogging his nose and sticking to his sweaty skin, and he felt that should be sweep it for ever, the clouds of dust would not diminish, the rug would not be clean. It became in his imagination his impossible, lifelong task, his hard trial, like that of a man he had read about somewhere, whose curse it was to push a boulder up a steep hill, only to have the giant who guarded the hill roll the boulder down again—and so on, for ever, throughout eternity; he was still out there, that hapless man, somewhere at the other end of the earth, pushing his boulder up the hill. He had John’s entire sympathy, for the longest and hardest part of his Saturday mornings was his voyage with the broom across this endless rug; and coming to the French doors that ended the living-room and stopped the rug, he felt like an indescribably weary traveler who sees his home at last. Yet for each dustpan he so laboriously filled at the door-still demons added to the rug twenty more; he saw in the expanse behind him the dust that he had raised settling again into the carpet; and he gritted his teeth, already on edge because of the dust that filled his mouth, and nearly wept to thinl that so much labor brought so little reward.

Nor was this the end of John’s Labor; for, having put away the broom and the dustpan, he took from the small bucket under the sink the dust rag and the furniture oil and a damp cloth, and returned to the living-room to excavate, as it were, from the dust that threatened to bury them, his family’s goods and gear. Thinking bitterly of his birthday, he attacked the mirror with the cloth, watching his face appear as out of a cloud. With a shock he saw that his face had not changed, that the hand of Satan was as yet invisible. His father had always said that his face was the face of Satan—and was there not something—in the lift of the eyebrow, in the way his rough hair formed a V on his brow—that bore witness to his father’s words? In the eye there was a light that was not the light of Heaven, and the mouth trembled, lustful and lewd, to drink deep of the wines of Hell. He stared at his face as though it were, as indeed it soon appeared to be, the face of a stranger, a stranger who held secrets that John could never know. And, having thought of it as the face of a stranger, he tried to look at it as a stranger might, and tried to discover what other people saw. But he saw only details: two great eyes, and a broad, low forehead, and the triangle of his nose, and his enormous mouth, and the barely perceptible cleft in his chin, which was, his father said, the mark of the devil’s little finger. These details did not help him, for the principle of their unity was undiscoverable, and he could not tell what he most passionately desired to know: whether his face was ugly or not.

And he dropped his eyes to the mantelpiece, lifting one by one the objects that adorned it. The mantelpiece held, in brave confusion, photographs, greeting cards, flowered mottoes, two silver candlesticks that held no candles, and a green metal serpent, poised to strike. To-day in his apathy John stared at them, not seeing; he began to dust them with exaggerated care of the profoundly preoccupied. One of the mottoes was pink and blue, and proclaimed in raised letters, which made the work of dusting harder:


Come in the evening, or come in the morning,Come when you’re looked for, or come without warning,A thousand welcomes you’ll find here before youAnd the oftener you come here, the more we’ll adore you.

And the other, in letters of fire against a background of gold, stated:


For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John iii, 16
These somewhat unrelated sentiments decorated either side of the mantelpiece, obscured a little by the silver candlesticks. Between these two extremes, the greeting cards, received year after year, on Christmas, or Easter, or birthdays, trumpeted their glad tidings; while the green metal serpent, perpetually malevolent, raised its head proudly in the midst of these trophies, biding the time to strike. Against the mirror, like a procession, the photographs were arranged.

These photographs were the true antiques of the family, which seemed to feel that a photograph should commemorate only the most distant past. The photographs of John and Roy, and of the two girls, which seemed to violate this unspoken law, served only in fact to prove it most iron-hard: they had all been taken in infancy, a time and a condition that the children could not remember. John in this photograph lat naked on a white counterpane, and people laughed and said that it was cunning. But John could never look at it without feeling shame and anger that his nakedness should be here so unkindly revealed. None of the other children was naked; no, Roy lay in the crib in a white gown and grinned toothlessly into the camera, and Sarah, somber at the age of six months, wore a white bonnet, and Ruth was held in her mother’s arms. When people looked at these photograph and laughed, their laughter differ from the laughter with which they greeted the naked John. For this reason, when visitors tried to make advances to John he was sullen, and they, feeling that for some reason he disliked them, retaliated by deciding that he was a ‘funny’ child.

Among the other photographs there was one of Aunt Florence, his father’s sister, in which her hair, in the old-fashioned way, was worn high and tied with a ribbon; she had been very young when his photograph was taken, and had just come North. Sometimes, when she came to visit, she called the photograph to witness that she had indeed been beautiful in her youth. There was a photograph of his mother, not the one John liked and had seen only once, but one taken immediately after her marriage. And there was a photograph of his father, dressed in black, sitting on a country porch with his hands folded heavily in his lap. The photograph had been taken on a sunny day, and the sunlight brutally exaggerated the planes of his father’s face. He stared into the sun, head raised, unbearable, and though it had been taken when he was young, it was not the face of a young man; only something archaic in the dress indicated that this photograph had been taken long ago. At the time this picture was taken, Aunt Florence said, he was already a preacher, and had a wife who was now in Heaven. That he had been a preacher at that time was not astonishing, for it was impossible to imagine that he had ever been anything else; but that he had had a wife in the so distant past who was now dead filled John with wonder by no means pleasant. If she had lived, John thought, then he would never have come North and met his mother. And this shadowy woman, dead so many years, whose name he knew had been Deborah, held in the fastness of her tomb, it seemed to John, the key to all those mysteries he so longed to unlock. It was she who had known his father in a life where John was not, and in a country John had never seen. When he was nothing, nowhere, dust, cloud, air, and sun, and falling rain, not even thought of, said his mother, in Heaven with the angels, said his aunt, she had known his father, and shared his father’s house. She had loved his father. She had known his father when lightning flashed and thunder rolled through Heaven, and his father said: ‘Listen. God is talking.’ She had known him in the mornings of that far-off country when his father turned on his bed and opened his eyes, and she had looked into those eyes, seeing what they held, and she had not been afraid. She had seen him baptized, kicking like a mule and howling, and she had seen him weep when his mother died; he was a right young man then, Florence said. Because she had looked into those eyes before they had looked on John, she knew that John would never know—the purity of his father’s eyes when John was not reflected in their depths. She could have told him—had he but been able form his hiding-place to ask!–how to make his father love him. But now it was too late. She would not speak before the judgment day. And among those many voices, the stammering with his own, John would care no longer for her testimony.

When he had finished and the room was ready for Sunday, John felt dusty and weary and sat down beside the window in his father’s easy chair. A glacial sun filled the streets, and a high wind filled the air with scraps of paper and frost dust, and banged the hanging signs of stores and store-front churches. It was the end of winter, and the garbage-filled snow that had been banked along the edges of pavements was melting now and filling the gutters. Boys were playing stickball in the damp, cold streets; dressed in heavy woolen sweaters and heavy trousers, they danced and shouted, and the ball went crack as the stick struck it and sent I speeding through the air. One of them wore a bright-red stocking cap with a great ball of wool hanging down behind that bounced as he jumped, like a bright omen above his head. The cold sun made their faces like copper and brass, and through the closed window John heard their coarse, irreverent voices. And he wanted to be one of them, playing in the streets, unfrightened, moving with such grace and power, but he knew this could not be. Yet, if he could not play their games, he could do something they could not do; he was able, as one of his teachers said, to think. But this brought him little in the way of consolation, for to-day he was terrified of his thoughts. He wanted to be with these boys in the street, headless and thoughtless, wearing out his treacherous and bewildering body.

But now it was eleven o’clock, and in two hours his father would be home. And then they might eat, and then his father would lead them in prayer, and then he would give them a Bible lesson. By and by it would be evening and he would go to clean the church, and remained for tarry service. Suddenly, sitting at the window, and with a violence unprecedented, there arose in John a flood of fury and tears, and he bowed his head, fists clenched against the window-pane, crying, with teeth on edge: ‘What shall I do? What shall I do?’

Then his mother called him; and he remembered that she was in the kitchen washing clothes and probably had something for him to do. He rose sullenly and walked into the kitchen. She stood over the wash-tub, her arms wet and soapy to the elbows and sweat standing on her brow. Her apron, improvised from an old sheet, was wet where she had been leaning over the scrubbing-board. As he came in, she straightened, drying her hands on the edge of the apron.

‘You finish your work, John\?’ she asked

He said: ‘Yes’m,’ and thought how oddly she looked at him; as though she were looking at someone else’s child.

‘That’s a good boy,’ she said. She smiled a shy, strained smile. ‘You know you’re your mother’s right-hand man?’

He said nothing, and he did not smile, but watched her, wandering to what task this preamble led.

She turned away, passing one damp hand across her forehead, and went to the cupboard. Her back was to him, and he watched her while she took down a bright, figured vase, filled with flowers only on the most special occasions, and emptied the contents into her palm. He heard the chink of money, which meant that she was going to send him to the store. She put the vase back and turned to face him, her palm loosely folded before her.

‘I didn’t never ask you,’ she said, ‘what you wanted for your birthday. But you take this, son, and go out and get yourself something you think you want.’

And she opened his palm and put the money into it, warm and wet from her hand. In the moment that he felt the warm, smooth coins and her hand on his, John stared blindly at her face, so far above him. His heart broke and he wanted to put his head on her belly where the wet spot was, and cry. But he dropped his eyes and looked at his palm, at the small pile of coins.

‘It ain’t much there,’ she said.

‘That’s all right.’ Then he looked up, and she bent down and kissed him on the forehead.

‘You getting to be,’ she said, putting her hand beneath his chin and holding his face away from her, ‘a right big boy. You going to be a mighty fine man, you know what? Your mama’s counting on you.’

And he knew again that she was not saying everything she meant; in a kind of secret language she was telling him to-day something that he must remember and understand to-morrow. He watched her face, his heart swollen with love for her and with an anguish, not yet his own, but he did not understand and that frightened him.

‘Yes, Ma,’ he said, hoping that she would realize, despite his stammering tongue, the depth of his passion to please her.

‘I know,’ she said, with a smile, releasing him and rising, ‘there’s a whole lot of things you don’t understand. But don’t you fret. The Lord’ll reveal to you in His own good time everything He wants you to know. You put your faith in the Lord, Johnny, and He’ll surely bring you out. Everything works together for good for them that love the Lord.’

He had heard her say this before—it was her text, as Set thine house in order was his father’s—but he knew that to-day she was saying it to him especially; she was trying to help him because she knew he was in trouble. And this trouble was also her own, which she would never tell to John. And even though he was certain that they could not be speaking of the same things—for then, surely, she would be angry and no longer proud of him—this perception on her part and his avowal of her love for him lent to John’s bewilderment a reality that terrified and a dignity that consoled him. Dimly, he felt that he ought to console her, and he listened, astounded, at the words that now fell from his lips:

‘Yes, Mama. I’m going to try to love the Lord.’

At this there sprang into his mother’s face something startling, beautiful, unspeakably sad—as though she were looking far beyond him at a long, dark road, and seeing on that road a traveler in perpetual danger. Was it he, the traveler? or herself? or was she thinking of the cross of Jesus? She turned back to the wash-tub, still with this strange sadness on her face.

‘You better go on now,’ she said, before your daddy gets home.’


In Central Park the snow had not yet melted on his favorite hill. This hill was in the center of the park, after he had left the circ le of the reservoir, where he always found, outside the high wall of crossed wire, ladies, white, in fur coats, walking their great dogs, or old, white gentlemen with canes. At a point that he knew by instinct and by the shape of the buildings surrounding the park, he struck out on a steep path overgrown with trees, and climbed a short distance until he reached the clearing that led to the hill. Before him, then, the slope stretched upward, and above it the brilliant sky, and beyond it, cloudy, and far away, he saw the skyline of New York. He did not know why, but there arose in him an exultation and a sense of power, and he ran up the hill like an engine, or a madman, willing to throw himself headlong into the city that glowed before him.

But when he reached the summit he paused; he stood on the crest of the hill, hands clasped beneath his chin, looking down. Then he, John, felt like a giant who might crumble this city with his anger; he felt like a tyrant who might crush this city beneath his heel; he felt like a long-awaited conqueror at whose feet flowers would be strewn, and before whom multitudes cried, Hosanna! He would be, of all, the mightiest, the most beloved, the Lord’s anointed; and he would live in this shining city which his ancestors had seen with longing from far away. For it was his; the inhabitants of the city had told him it was his; he had but to run down, crying, and they would take him to their hearts and shoe him wonders his eyes had never seen.

And still, on the summit of that hill he paused. He remembered the people he had seen in that city, whose eyes held no love for him. And he thought of their feet so swift and brutal, and the dark gray clothes they wore, and how when they passed they did not see him, or, if they saw him, they smirked. And how the lights, unceasing, crashed on and off above him, and how he was a stranger there. Then he remembered his father and his mother, and all the arms stretched out to hold him back, to save him from this city where, they said, his soul would find perdition.

And certainly perdition sucked at the feet of the people who walked there; and cried in the lights, in the gigantic towers; the marks of Satan could be found in the faces of the people who waited at the doors of movie houses; his words were printed on the great movie posters that invited people to sin. It was the roar of the damned that filled Broadway, where motor-cars and buses and the hurrying people disputed every inch with death. Broadway: the way that led to death was broad, and many could be found thereon; but narrow was the way that led to life eternal, and few there were who found it. But he did not long for the narrow way, where all his people walked; where the houses did not rise, piercing, as it seemed, the unchanging clouds, but huddled, flat, ignoble, close to the filthy ground, where the streets and the hallways and the rooms were dark, and where the unconquerable odor was of dust, and sweat, and urine, and home-made gin. In the narrow way, the way of the cross, there awaited him only humiliation for ever; there awaited him, one day, a house like his father’s house, and a church like his father’s, and a job like his father’s, where he would grow old and black with hunger and toil. The way of the cross had given him a belly filled with wind and had bent his mother’s back; they had never worn fine clothes, but here, where the buildings contested God’s power and where the men and women did not fear God, here he might eat and drink to his heart’s content and clothe his body with wondrous fabrics, rich to the eye and pleasing to the touch. And then what of his soul, which would one day come to die and stand naked before the judgment bar? What would his conquest of the city profit him on that day? To hurl away, for a moment of ease, the glories of eternity!

These glories were unimaginable—but the city was real. He stood for a moment on the melting snow, distracted, and then began to run down the hill, feeling himself fly as the descent became more rapid, and thinking: ‘I can climb back up. If it’s wrong, I can always climb back up.’ At the bottom of the hill, where the ground abruptly leveled off on to a gravel path, he nearly knocked down an old white man with a white beard, who was walking very slowly and leaning on his cane. They both stopped, astonished, and looked at one another. John struggled to catch his breath and apologize, but old man smiled. John smiled back. It was as though he and the old man had between them a great secret; and the old man moved on. The snow glittered in patches all over the park. Ice, under the pale, strong sun, melted slowly on the branches and trunks of trees.

He came out of the park at Fifth Avenue where, as always, the old-fashioned horse-carriages were lined along the kerb, their drivers sitting on the high seats with rugs around their knees, or standing in twos and threes near the horses, stamping their feet and smoking pipes and talking. I summer he had seen people riding in these carriages, looking like people out of books, or out of movies in which everyone wore old-fashioned clothes and rushed at nightfall over frozen road, hotly pursued by their enemies who wanted to carry them back to death. ‘Look back, look back,’ had cried a beautiful woman with long blonde curls, ‘and see if we are pursued!—and she had come, as John remembered, to a terrible end. Now he stared at the horses, enormous and brown and patient, stamping every now and again a polished hoof, and he thought of what it would be like to have one day a horse of his own. He would call it Rider, and mount it at morning when the grass was wet, and from the horse’s back look out over great, sun-filled fields, his own. Behind him stood his house, great and rambling and very new, and in the kitchen his wife, a beautiful woman, made breakfast, and the smoke rose out of the chimney, melting into the morning air. They had children, who called him Papa and for whom at Christmas he bought electric trains. And he had turkeys and cows and chickens and geese, and other horses besides Rider. They had a closet full of whisky and wine; they had cars—but what church did they go to and what would he teach his children when they gathered around him in the evening? He looked straight ahead, down Fifth Avenue, where graceful women in fur coats walked, looking into the windows that held silk dresses, and watches, and rings. What church did they go to? And what were their houses like in the evening they took off these coats, and these silk dresses, and put their jewelery in a box, and leaned back in soft beds to think for a moment before they slept of the day gone by? Did they read a verse from the Bible every night and fall on their knees to pray? But no, for their thoughts were not of God, and their way was not God’s way. They were in the world, and of the world, and their feet laid hold on Hell.

Yet in school some of them had been nice to him, and it was hard to think of them burning in Hell for ever, they who were so gracious and beautiful now. Once, one winter when he had been very sick with a heavy cold that would not leave him, one of his teachers had bought him a bottle of cod-liver oil, especially prepared with heavy syrup so that it did not taste so bad: this was surely a Christian act. His mother had said that God would bless that woman; and he had got better. They were kind—he was sire that they were kind—and on the day that he would bring himself to their attention they would surely love and honor him. This was not his father’s opinion. His father said that all white people were wicked, and that God was going to bring them low. He said that white people were never to be trusted, and that they told nothing but lies, and that no one of them had ever loved a nigger. He, John, was a nigger, and he would find out, as soon as he got a little older, how evil white people could be. John had read about the things white people did to colored people; how, in the South, where his parents came from, white people cheated them of their wages, and burned them, and shot them—and did worse things, said his father, which the tongue could not endure to utter. He had read about colored men being burned in the electric chair for things they had not done; how in riots they were beaten with clubs; how they were tortured in prisons; how they were the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Niggers did not live on these streets where John now walked; it was forbidden; and yet he walked here, and no one raised a hand against him. But did he dare to enter this shop out of which a woman now casually walked, carrying a great round box? Or this apartment before which a white man stood, dressed in a brilliant uniform? John knew he did not dare, not to-day, and he heard his father’s laugh: ‘No, nor to-morrow neither!’ For him there was the back door, and the dark stairs, and the kitchen or the basement. This world was not for him. If he refused to believe, and wanted to break his neck trying, then he could try until the sun refused to shine; they would never let him enter. In John’s mind then, the people and the avenue underwent a change, and he feared them and knew that one day he could hate them if God did not change his heart.

He left Fifth Avenue and walked west toward the movie houses. Here on 42nd Street it was less elegant but not less strange. He loved this street, not for the people or the shops but for the stone lions that guarded the great main building of the Public Library, a building filled with book and unimaginably vast, and which he had never yet dared to enter. He might, he knew, for he was a member of the branch in Harlem and was entitled to take books from any library in the city. But he had never gone in because the building was so big that it must be full of corridors and marble steps, in the maze of which he would be lost and never find the book he wanted. And then everyone, all the white people inside, would know that he was not used to great buildings, or to many books, and they would look at him wit pity. He would enter on another day, when he had read all the books uptown, an achievement that would, he felt, lend him the poise to enter any building in the world. People, mostly men, leaned over the stone parapets of the raised park that surrounded the library, or walked up and own and bent to drink water from the public drinking-fountains. Silver pigeons lighted briefly on the heads of the lions or the rims of fountains, and strutted along the walks. John loitered in front of Woolworth’s, staring at the candy display, trying to decide what candy to buy—and buying one, for the store was crowded and he was certain that the salesgirl would never notice him—and before a vendor of artificial flowers, and crossed Sixth Avenue where the Automat was, and the parked taxis, and the shops, which he would not look at to-day, that displayed in their windows dirty postcards and practical jokes. Beyond Sixth Avenue the movie houses began, and now he studied the stills carefully, trying to decide which of all these theaters he should enter. He stopped at last before a gigantic, colored poster that represented a wicked woman, half undressed, leaning in a doorway, apparently quarreling with a blond man who stared wretchedly into the street. The legend above their heads was: ‘There’s a fool like him in every family—and a woman next door to take him over!’ He decided to see this, for he felt identified with the blond young man, the fool of his family, and he wished to know more about his so blatantly unkind fate.

And so he stared at the price above the ticket-seller’s window and, showing her his coins, received the piece of paper that was charged with the power to open doors. having once decided to enter, he did not look back at the street again for fear that one of the saints might be passing and, seeing him, might cry out his name and lay hands on him to drag him back. He walked very quickly across the carpeted lobby, looking at nothing, and pausing only to see his ticket torn, half of it thrown into a silver box and half returned to him. And then the usherette opened the doors of this dark palace and with a flashlight held behind her took him to his seat. Not even then, having pushed past a wilderness of knees and feet to reach his designated seat, did he dare to breathe; nor, out of a last, sick hope for forgiveness, did he look at the screen. He stared at the darkness around him, and at the profiles that gradually emerged from this gloom, was so like the gloom of Hell. He waited for this darkness to be shattered by the light of the second coming, for the ceiling to crack upward, revealing, for every eye to see, the chariots of fire on which descended a wrathful God and all the host of Heaven. He sank far down in his seat, as though his crouching might make him invisible and deny his presence there. But then he thought: ‘Not yet. The day of judgment is not yet,’ and voices reached him, the voices no doubt of the hapless man and the evil woman, and he raised his eyes helplessly and watched the screen.

The woman was most evil. She was blonde and pasty white, and she had lived in London, which was in England, quite some time ago, judging from her clothes, and she coughed. She had a terrible disease, tuberculosis, which he had heard about. Someone in his mother’s family had died of it. She had a great many boy friends, and she smoked cigarettes and drank. When she met the young man, who was a student and who loved her very much, she was very cruel to him. She laughed at him because he was a cripple. She took his money and she went out with other men, and she lied to the student—who was certainly a fool. He limped about, looking soft and sad, and soon all John’s sympathy was given to this violent and unhappy woman. He understood her when she raged and shook her lips and threw back her head in laughter so furious that it seemed the veins of her neck would burst. She walked the cold, foggy streets, a little woman and not pretty, with a lewd, brutal swagger, saying to the whole world: ‘You can kiss my arse.’ Nothing tamed or broke her, nothing touched her, neither kindness, nor scorn, nor hatred, nor love. She had never thought of prayer. It was unimaginable that she would ever bend her knees and come crawling along a dusty floor to anybody’s altar, weeping for forgiveness. Perhaps her pride was so great that she did not need forgiveness. She had fallen from that high estate which God had intended for men and women, and she made her fall glorious because it was so complete. John could not have found in his heart, had he dared to search it, any wish for her redemption. He wanted to be like her, only more powerful, more thorough, and more cruel; to make those around him, all who hurt him, suffer as she made the student suffer, and laugh in their faces when they asked pity for their pain. He would have asked no pity, and his pain was greater than theirs. Go on, girl, he whispered, as the student, facing her implacable ill-will, sighed and wept. Go on, girl. One day he would talk like that, he would face them and tell them how much he hated them, how they had made him suffer, how he would pay them back!

Never


Date: 2015-02-03; view: 537


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GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN By James Baldwin | THE COLLECTOR by John Fowles
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