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".
- '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
- '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?
- '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
- '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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