Sutpen stood above the pallet bed on which the mother and child lay. Between the shrunken planking of the wall the early sunlight fell in long pencil strokes, breaking upon his straddled legs and upon the riding whip in his hand, and lay across the still shape of the mother, who lay looking up at him from still, inscrutable, sullen eyes, the child at her side wrapped in a piece of dingy though clean cloth. Behind them an old Negro woman squatted beside the rough hearth where a meager fire smoldered.
"Well, Milly," Sutpen said, "too bad you're not a mare. Then I could give you a decent stall in the stable."
Still the girl on the pallet did not move. She merely continued to look up at him without expression, with a young, sullen, inscrutable face still pale from recent travail. Sutpen moved, bringing into the splintered pencils of sunlight the face of a man of sixty. He said quietly to the squatting Negress, "Griselda foaled this morning."
"Horse or mare?" the Negress said.
"A horse. A damned fine colt ... What's this?" He indicated the pallet with the hand which held the whip.
"That un's a mare, I reckon."
"Hah," Sutpen said. "A damned fine colt. Going to be the spit and image of old Rob Roy when I rode him North in '61. Do you remember?"
"Hah." He glanced back towards the pallet. None could have said if the girl still watched him or not. Again his whip hand indicated the pallet. "Do whatever they need with whatever we've got to do it with." He went out, passing out the crazy doorway and stepping down into the rank weeds (there yet leaned rusting against the corner of the porch the scythe which Wash had borrowed from him three months ago to cut them with) where his horse waited, where Wash stood holding the reins.
When Colonel Sutpen rode away to fight the Yankees, Wash did not go. "I'm looking after the Kernel's place and niggers," he would tell all who asked him and some who had not asked - a gaunt, malaria-ridden man with pale, questioning eyes, who looked about thirty-five, though it was known that he had not only a daughter but an eight-year-old granddaughter as well. This was a lie, as most of them - the few remaining men between eighteen and fifty - to whom he told it, knew, though there were some who believed that he himself really believed it, though even these believed that he had better sense than to put it to the test with Mrs. Sutpen or the Sutpen slaves. Knew better or was just too lazy and shiftless to try it, they said, knowing that his sole connection with the Sutpen plantation lay in the fact that for years now Colonel Sutpen had allowed him to squat in a crazy shack on a slough in the river bottom on the Sutpen place, which Sutpen had built for a fishing lodge in his bachelor days and which had since fallen in dilapidation from disuse, so that now it looked like an aged or sick wild beast crawled terrifically there to drink in the act of dying.
The Sutpen slaves themselves heard of his statement. They laughed. It was not the first time they had laughed at him, calling him white trash behind his back. They began to ask him themselves, in groups, meeting him in the faint road which led up from the slough and the old fish camp, "Why ain't you at de war, white man?"
Pausing, he would look about the ring of black faces and white eyes and teeth behind which derision lurked.
"Because I got a daughter and family to keep," he said. "Git out of my road, niggers."
"Niggers?" they repeated; "niggers?" laughing now. "Who him, calling us niggers?"
"Yes," he said. "I ain't got no niggers to look after my folks if I was gone."
"Nor nothing else but dat shack down yon dat Cunnel wouldn't let non of us live in."
Now he cursed them; sometimes he rushed at them, snatching up a stick from the ground while they scattered before him, yet seeming to surround him still with that black laughing, derisive, evasive, inescapable, leaving him panting and impotent and raging. Once it happened in the very back yard of the big house itself. This was after bitter news had come down from the Tennessee mountains and from Vicksburg, and Sherman had passed through the plantation, and most ot the Negroes had followed him. Almost everything else had gone with the Federal troops, and Mrs. Sutpen had sent word to Wash that he could have the scuppernongs ripening in the arbor in the back yard. This time it was a house servant, one of the few Negroes who remained; this time the Negress had to retreat up the kitchen steps, where she turned. "Stop right dar, white man. Stop right whar you is. You ain't never crossed dese steps whilst Cunnel here, and you ain't ghy' do hit now."
This was true. But there was this of a kind of pride: he had never tried to enter the big house, even though he believed that if he had, Sutpen would have received him, permitted him. "But I ain't going to give no black nigger the chance to tell me I can't go nowhere," he said to himself. "I ain't even going to give Kernel the chance to have to cuss a nigger on my account." This, though he and Sutpen had spent more than one afternoon together on those rare Sundays when there would be no company in the house. Perhaps his mind knew that it was because Sutpen had nothing else to do, being a man who could not bear his own company. Yet the fact remained that the two of them would spend whole afternoons in the scuppernong arbor, Sutpen in the hammock and Wash squatting against a post, a pail of cistern water between them, taking drink for drink from the same demijohn. Meanwhile on weekdays he would see the fine figure of the man - they were the same age almost to a day, though neither of them (perhaps because Wash had a grandchild while Sutpen's son was a youth in school) ever thought of himself as being so - on the fine figure of the black stallion, galloping about the plantation. For that moment his heart would be quiet and proud. It would seem to him that that world in which Negroes, whom the Bible told him had been created and cursed by God to be brute and vassal to all men of white skin, were better found and housed and even clothed than he and his; that world in which he sensed always about him mocking echoes of black laughter was but a dream and an illusion, and that the actual world was this one across which his own lonely apotheosis seemed to gallop on the black thoroughbred, thinking how the Book said also that all men were created in the image of God and hence all men made the same image in God's eyes at least; so that he could say, as though speaking of himself, "A fine proud man. If God Himself was to come down and ride the natural earth, that's what He would aim to look like."
Sutpen returned in 1865, on the black stallion. He seemed to have aged ten years. His son had been killed in action the same winter in which his wife had died. He returned with his citation for gallantry from the hand of General Lee to a ruined plantation, where for a year now his daughter had subsisted partially on the meager bounty of the man to whom fifteen years ago he had granted permission to live in that tumbledown fishing camp whose very existence he had at the time forgotten. Wash was there to meet him, unchanged: still gaunt, still ageless, with his pale, questioning gaze, his air diffident, a little servile, a little familiar. "Well, Kernel," Wash said, "they kilt us but they ain't whupped us yit, air they?"
That was the tenor of their conversation for the next five years. It was inferior whisky which they drank now together from a stoneware jug, and it was not in the scuppernong arbor. It was in the rear of the little store which Sutpen managed to set up on the highroad: a frame shelved room where, with Wash for clerk and porter, he dispensed kerosene and staple foodstuffs and stale gaudy candy and cheap beads and ribbons to Negroes or poor whites of Wash's own kind, who came afoot or on gaunt mules to haggle tediously for dimes and quarters with a man who at one time could gallop (the black stallion was still alive; the stable in which his jealous get lived was in better repair than the house where the master himself lived) for ten miles across his own fertile land and who had led troops gallantly in battle; until Sutpen in fury would empty the store, close and lock the doors from the inside. Then he and Wash would repair to the rear and the jug. But the talk would not be quiet now, as when Sutpen lay in the hammock, delivering an arrogant monologue while Wash squatted guffawing against his post. They both sat now, though Sutpen had the single chair while Wash used whatever box or keg was handy, and even this for just a little while, because soon Sutpen would reach that stage of impotent and furious undefeat in which he would rise, swaying and plunging, and declare again that he would take his pistol and the black stallion and ride single-handed into Washington and kill Lincoln, dead now, and Sherman, now a private citizen. "Kill them!" he would shout. "Shoot them down like the dogs they are -"
"Sho, Kernel; sho, Kernel," Wash would say, catching Sutpen as he fell. Then he would commandeer the first passing wagon or, lacking that, he would walk the mile to the nearest neighbor and borrow one and return and carry Sutpen home. He entered the house now. He had been doing so for a long time, taking Sutpen home in whatever borrowed wagon might be, talking him into locomotion with cajoling murmurs as though he were a horse, a stallion himself. The daughter would meet them and hold open the door without a word. He would carry his burden through the once white formal entrance, surmounted by a fanlight imported piece by piece from Europe and with a board now nailed over a missing pane, across a velvet carpet from which all nap was now gone, and up a formal stairs, now but a fading ghost of bare boards between two strips of fading paint, and into the bedroom. It would be dusk by now, and he would let his burden sprawl onto the bed and undress it and then he would sit quietly in a chair beside. After a time the daughter would come to the door. "We're all right now," he would tell her. "Don't you worry none, Miss Judith."
Then it would become dark, and after a while he would lie down on the floor beside the bed, though not to sleep, because after a time - sometimes before midnight - the man on the bed would stir and groan and then speak.
"Hyer I am, Kernel. You go back to sleep. We ain't whupped yit, air we? Me and you kin do hit."
Even then he had already seen the ribbon about his granddaughter's waist. She was now fifteen, already mature, after the early way of her kind. He knew where the ribbon came from; he had been seeing it and its kind daily for three years, even if she had lied about where she got it, which she did not, at once bold, sullen, and fearful.
"Sho now," he said. "Ef Kernel wants to give hit to you, I hope you minded to thank him."
His heart was quiet, even when he saw the dress, watching her secret, defiant, frightened face when she told him that Miss Judith, the daughter, had helped her to make it. But he was quite grave when he approached Sutpen after they closed the store that afternoon, following the other to the rear.
"Get the jug," Sutpen directed.
"Wait," Wash said. "Not yit for a minute."
Neither did Sutpen deny the dress. "What about it?" he said.
William Faulkner: Wash
to be the spit and image of s.o.: das genaue Ebenbild von jmd. sein
crazy: baufällig, windschief
dat shack down yon: that shack down yonder (down yonder: dort unten, dort drüben)
derision: Spott, Hohn
derisive: spöttisch, höhnisch
dingy: schäbig, verwaschen
disuse: Nichtgebrauch, Nichtbenutzung
evasive: ausweichend, schwer zu fassen
faint: nur angedeutet, kaum noch kenntlich
to fall in dilapidation: verfallen, baufällig werden
to foal: fohlen, ein Fohlen werfen
git : get
horse: Pferd, Hengst
inscrutable: unerforschlich, unergründlich
to lurk: lauern
malaria-ridden: von der Malaria geplagt, gezeichnet
pallet bed: Strohbett, Pritsche
place: Grundbesitz, Plantage
planking: Holzverschalung, Bretterwand, Planken
to put it to the test with s.o.: es bie jmd. darauf ankommen lassen
rank: üppig (wuchernd)
to reckon: glauben, denken
river bottom: Talgrund
to scatter: sich zerstreuen (Menge), auseinanderstieben
scuppernong: muskatellerähnliche Traubensorte (benannt nach dem Scuppernong River in North Carolina)
to send word to s.o.: jdn benachrichtigen, jmd Bescheid geben
shiftless: faul, träge, nichtsnutzig
slough: sumpfiger Nebenarm eines Flusses
to smolder: glimmen, schwelen, glühen
to splinter: zersplittern
to squat: hocken, kauern; sich (ohne Rechtsanspruch) ansiedeln, niederlassen
stall: Box (im Stall)
straddled legs: gespreizte Beine
Tennessee mountains: Stätte mehrerer entscheidender Niederlagen der Südstaatenarmee; die Schlacht bei Chattanooga (23. bis 25.11.1863) gilt als einer der großen Wendepunkte des amerikanischen Bürgerkriegs zugunsten des Norden
Vicksburg: heftig umkämpfte Garnisonsstadt der Konföderierten am Mississippi, die am 4.7.1863 von der Unionsarmee eingenommen wurde. Der Fall von Vicksburg ist der andere entscheidende militärische Wendepunkt des Krieges
whar you is: where you are
white trash: etwa: weißes Lumpenpack; in den amerikanischen Südstaaten Schimpfwort für die unterste soziale Schicht der Weißen
you ain't ghy' do hit now: you aren't going to do it now