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William Faulkner — LIGHT IN AUGUST

Chapter 19 ABOUT the suppertables on that Monday night, what the town wondered was not so much how

Christmas had escaped but why when free, he had taken refuge in the place which he did, where he must have known he would be certainly run to earth, and why when that occurred he neither surrendered nor resisted. It was as though he had set out and made his plans to passively commit suicide. There were many reasons, opinions, as to why he had fled to Hightower’s house at the last. “Like to like,” the easy, the immediate, ones said, remembering the old tales about the minister. Some believed it to have been sheer chance; others said that the man had shown wisdom, since he would not have been suspected of being in the minister’s house at all if someone had not seen him run across the back yard and run into the kitchen. Gavin Stevens though had a different theory. He is the District Attorney, a Harvard graduate, a Phi Beta Kappa: a tall, loosejointed man with a constant cob pipe, with an untidy mop of irongray hair, wearing always loose and un pressed dark gray clothes. His family is old in Jefferson; his ancestors owned slaves there and his grandfather knew (and also hated, and publicly congratulated Colonel Sartoris when they died) Miss Burden’s grandfather and brother. He has an easy quiet way with country people, with the voters and the juries; he can be seen now and then squatting among the overalls on the porches of country stores for a whole summer afternoon, talking to them in their own idiom about nothing at all. On this Monday night there descended from the nine o’clock southbound train a college professor from the neighboring State University, a schoolmate of Stevens’ at Harvard, come to spend a few days of the vacation with his friend. When he descended from the train he saw his friend at once. He believed that Stevens had come down to meet him until he saw that Stevens was engaged with a queerlooking old couple whom he was putting on the train. Looking at them, the professor saw a little, dirty old man with a short goat’s beard who seemed to be in a state like catalepsy, and an old woman who must have been his wife—a dumpy creature with a face like dough beneath a nodding and soiled white plume, shapeless in a silk dress of an outmoded shape and in color regal and moribund. For an instant the professor paused in a sort of astonished interest, watching Stevens putting into the woman’s hand, as into the hand of a child, two railroad tickets; moving again and approaching and still unseen by his friend, he overheard Stevens’ final words as the flagman helped the old people into the vestibule: “Yes, yes,” Stevens was saying, in a tone soothing and recapitulant; “he’ll be on the train tomorrow morning. I’ll see to it. All you’ll have to do is to arrange for the funeral, the cemetery. You take Granddad on home and put him to bed. I’ll see that the boy is on the train in the morning.” Then the train began to move and Stevens turned and saw the professor. He began the story as they rode to town and finished it as they sat on the veranda of Stevens’ home, and there recapitulated. “I think I know why it was, why he ran into Hightower’s house for refuge at the last. I think it was his grandmother. She had just been with him in his cell when they took him back to the courthouse again; she and the grandfather—that little crazed old man who wanted to lynch him, who came up here from Mottstown for that purpose. I don’t think that the old lady had any hope of saving him when she came, any actual hope. I believe that all she wanted was that he die ‘decent,’ as she put it. Decently hung by a Force, a principle; not burned or hacked or dragged dead by a Thing. I think she came here just to watch that old man, lest he be the straw that started the hurricane, because she did not dare let him out of her sight. Not that she doubted that Christmas was her grandchild, you understand. She just didn’t hope. Didn’t know how to begin to hope. I imagine that 179

Light in August (William Faulkner,1932)  

Light in August (William Faulkner,1932)

Light in August (William Faulkner,1932)  

Light in August (William Faulkner,1932)

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