"The Reivers" by William Faulkner


This passage comes toward the end the book and the young narrator, Lucius, is about to have to pay the price for his four days of adventurous "wrong-doings" by being marched down the stairs and into the cellar where his father is going to give him a good "licking" with a razor strop. But neither Lucius nor his father anticipate the intervention of the grandfather, "Boss".


   Then Grandfather said, 'Maury.'
   'Not this time, Boss,' Father said. Then to me: 'Let's get it over with.'
   'Yes sir,' I said, and followed him, on down the hall to the bathroom and stopped at the door while he took the razor strop from the hook and I stepped back so he could come out and we went on; Mother was at the top of the cellar stairs; I could see the tears, but no more; all she had to do would be to say Stop or Please or Maury or maybe if she had just said Lucius. But nothing, and I followed Father on down and stopped again while he opened the cellar door and we went in, where we kept the kindling in winter and the zinc-lined box for ice in summer, and Mother and Aunt Callie had shelves for preserves and jelly and jam, and even an old rocking chair for Mother and Aunt Callie while they were puttlng up the jars, and for Aunt Callie to sleep in sometimes after dinner, though she always said she hadn't been asleep. So here we were at last, where it had taken me four days of dodging and scrabbling and scurrying to get to; and it was wrong, and Father and I both knew it. I mean, if after all the lying and deceiving and disobeying and conniving I had done, all he could do about it was to whip me, then Father was not good enough for me. And if all that I had done was balanced by no more than that shaving strop, then both of us were debased. You see? it was impasse, until Grandfather knocked. The door was not locked, but Grandfather's father had taught him, and he had taught Father, and Father had taught me that no door required a lock: the closed door itself was sufficient until you were invited to enter it. But Grandfather didn't wait, not this time.
   'No,' Father said. 'This is what you would have done to me twenty years ago.'
   'Maybe I have more sense now,' Grandfather said. 'Persuade Alison to go on back upstairs and stop snivelling.' Then Father was gone, the door closed again. Grandfather sat in the rocking chair: not fat, but with just the right amount of paunch to fill the white waistcoat and make the heavy gold watch chain hang right.
   'I lied,' I said.
   'Come here,' he said.
   'I can't' I said. 'I lied, I tell you.'
   'I know it' he said.
   'Then do something about it. Do anything, just so it's something.'
   'I can't' he said.
   'There ain't anything to do? Not anything?'
   'I didn't say that,' Grandfather said. 'I said I couldn't. You can.'
   'What?' I said. 'How can I forget it? Tell me how to.'
   'You can't,' he said. 'Nothing is ever forgotten. Nothing is ever lost. It's too valuable.'
   'Then what can I do?'
   'Live with it,' Grandfather said.
   'Live with it? You mean, forever? For the rest of my life? Not ever to get rid of it? Never? I can't. Don't you see I can't?'
   'Yes you can,' he said. 'You will. A gentleman always does. A gentleman can live through anything. He faces anything. A gentleman accepts the responsibility of his actions and bears the burden of their consequences, even when he did not himself instigate them but only acquiesced to them, didn't say No though he knew he should. Come here.' Then I was crying hard, bawling, standing (no: kneeling; I was that tall now) between his knees, one of his hands at the small of my back, the other at the back of my head holding my face down against his stiff collar and shirt and I could smell him - the starch and shaving lotion and chewing tobacco and benzine where Grandmother or Delphine had cleaned a spot from his coat, and always a faint smell of whiskey which I always believed was from the first toddy which he took in bed in the morning before he got up. When I slept with him, the first thing in the morning would be Ned (he had no white coat; sometimes he didn't have on any coat or even a shirt, and even after Grandfather sent the horses to stay at the livery stable, Ned still managed to smell like them) with the tray bearing the decanter and water jug and sugar bowl and spoon and tumbler, and Grandfather would sit up in bed and make the toddy and drink it, then put a little sugar into the hell-tap and stir it and add a little water and give it to me until Grandmother came suddenly in one morning and put a stop to it. 'There,' he said at last. 'That should have emptied the cistern. Now go wash your face. A gentleman cries too, but he always washes his face.'


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