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Authors: Ernest J. Gaines

A Gathering of Old Men

BOOK: A Gathering of Old Men
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Praise for
Ernest J. Gaines’s
A Gathering of Old Men

“Gaines knows how to tell a story.… [He writes] with humor, a strong sense of drama and a compassionate understanding of people who find themselves in opposing positions.”

—Jonathan Yardley,
Washington Post

“A fine novel … there is a denouement that will shock and move readers as much as it does the characters, and a multiplicity of themes that raises a simple tale to grand significance.”

—David Bradley,
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Riveting … it takes off like a shot and keeps your heart pounding right through the final climax.”

—Patricia Holt,
San Francisco Chronicle

“Poignant, powerful, earthy … a novel of Southern racial confrontation in which a group of elderly black men band together against whites who seek vengeance for the murder of one of their own.”

—Booklist

“Gaines’s people talk real talk and walk real streets.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Ernest J. Gaines
A Gathering of Old Men

Ernest J. Gaines was born on a plantation in Pointe Coupée Parish near New Roads, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all his fictional works. His novels include the much-acclaimed
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Of Love and Dust, Catherine Carmier, Bloodline
, and
In My Father’s House
. He divides his time between San Francisco and the University of Southwestern Louisiana, in Lafayette, where he holds a visiting professorship in creative writing. His new novel,
A Lesson Before Dying
, will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1993.

ALSO BY ERNEST J. GAINES

Catherine Carmier
Of Love and Dust
Bloodline
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
A Long Day in November
In My Father’s House

FIRST VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION, JULY 1992

Copyright
©
1983 by Ernest J. Gaines

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1983.

Portions of this book have appeared previously in
Black Scholar
and
Georgia Review
.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publications Data
Gaines, Ernest J., 1933 –
A gathering of old men.
I. Title

[PS3557.A355G3    1984b]       813′.54       91-58064
eISBN: 978-0-307-83038-8

v3.1

This book is dedicated to the memory of
Mr. Walter Zeno—aka Salute, Rider, Pete,
and a few other names

Contents
George Eliot, Jr
.
aka
Snookum

I heard Candy
out in the front yard calling Gram Mon. Me and Toddy and Minnie was sitting at the table eating, and Gram Mon was at the stove looking in the pot to see if she had enough food left in there for supper. I could hear Candy out in the yard, going: “Oh, Aunt Glo; oh, Aunt Glo; oh, Aunt Glo.” I jumped up from my chair to go see what she wanted, but Gram Mon told me to sit back down there and finish my food, ’cause my name wasn’t Glo, or Aunt. She looked at me long enough for it to set in; then she started toward the front door where Candy was still going: “Oh, Aunt Glo; oh, Aunt Glo; oh, Aunt Glo.”

Old Toddy with his snagged-teef self looked at me and grinned, ’cause he thought Gram Mon had hurt my feeling when she told me to sit back down. I checked one of my fist, but he knowed I couldn’t hit him, ’cause he had already caught me and Minnie playing mama and papa in the weeds, and he told me I had a year when I couldn’t do him nothing no matter what he did me, and if I did he was go’n tell Gram Mon what he caught us doing. He told me he could grin at
me all he wanted to, and he could hit me, and kick me, and pinch me (in church, or home, he didn’t care), and he could steal my cake if he wanted to, or my candy if I had any, and he could lose all his marbles to me, and I better not take them back, and I better not gig his spinning top when we played gigging, ’cause if I did he was go’n tell Gram Mon what he saw me and Minnie trying to do in the weeds. He said it was go’n be like that a whole year, if I liked it or not. It started just ’fore Candy started calling Gram Mon, ’cause we had just come in to eat dinner when I heard her calling out there in the yard.

I heard Candy saying: “Snookum in there?”

“At the table eating. What’s the matter, Candy?” Gram Mon said.

“Get Snookum out here,” Candy said.

“Snookum did something wrong?” Gram Mon asked her.

“Hurry, Aunt Glo,” Candy said.

“Snookum?” Gram Mon called me.

Old Toddy and Minnie jumped up too, and Gram Mon looked over her shoulder and said, “Get back in there and eat them turnips. I called Snookum.”

“How come Snookum don’t have to eat his turnips?” Toddy said. “How come just me and Minnie got to eat turnips?”

“ ’Cause I called him,” Gram Mon said. “Now, get back in there and finish them turnips.”

“I ain’t no turnip-eating machine,” Toddy said.

“You better turn into one ’fore I get back in that kitchen,” Gram Mon said. “Snookum, Candy want talk to you. Toddy, you and Minnie finish them turnips,” Gram Mon said.

“Snookum can act a fool and laugh at me out there,” Toddy said. “But he know I got something on him.”

Candy was standing in the yard close to the steps when I came out on the garry. She wore a white shirt and khaki pants and brown shoes with little gold buckles. Her hair was light
brown and dark brown and cut short, almost short like a man’s hair.

“Come here, Snookum,” she said.

I jumped down on the ground where she was, and she grabbed me by the shoulders with both hands. She leaned over and brought her face close to mine, and her eyes, the color of blue smoke, looked wild and scared. I was thinking I had done something wrong and she was mad at me for it.

“Now, listen,” she said. “I want you to run, and I don’t want you to stop running. I want you to go tell Rufe and Reverend Jameson and Corrine and the rest of them to gather at Mathu’s house right away. And I want you to go to the front, and I want you to—listen to me good, now,” she said, squeezing my shoulders and hurting me a little bit—“go up to the house and see if Miss Merle’s there. If she is, tell her I say come quick. No, if she’s there tell her to call Lou and tell Lou to get here quick, then she get here quick. If she’s not there, tell Janey to call her and Lou and tell them to get here quick. Don’t waste time on that phone talking, just get here quick. Don’t do nothing but get here quick. You heard what I said, Snookum?”

“What I’m telling all them people to get here quick for?” I asked her.

“That’s none of your business, Snookum. You’re nothing but a little boy. Now, get moving and don’t stop running.”

I shot out of the yard. When I hit the road, I saw the tractor in front of Mathu’s house. The motor was running, I could hear it, I could see the smoke, but Charlie wasn’t on the tractor. He had two big loads of cane hitched to the back of the tractor, but he wasn’t on the tractor. On the other side of the road, in front of Mathu’s house, I could see Candy’s big black car shining in the sun. I knowed Candy didn’t tell me to tell Mathu anything, but looked to me like since all them other people was gathering at his house, looked to me like he ought to know what was going on, too. So when I
came up even with his house, I ran in the yard, and that’s when I seen Beau. Beau was laying over there in the weeds all bloody.

“Get away from there, boy!” Mathu hollered at me from the garry.

“I’m doing something for Candy,” I said.

“You ain’t doing nothing for her there,” he said. “Now, get away from there.”

Mathu was squatting against the wall with that double-barrel shotgun in his arms. He had on that old gray hat that was the color of the ground. He had on a dirty white tee shirt and green pants. He was smoking a cigarette. Mathu was black black with a white beard.

“Candy want everybody at your house,” I told him.

“If that’s what she want, you better go on and do it,” he said. “Now, get away from there.”

I looked back at that tractor. The motor was still running. I looked back at Mathu squatting against the wall.

“Where Charlie?” I said. “How come he ain’t driving that tractor?”

“That’s none of your business,” Mathu said. “Get out of this yard, and get out fast, or I’ll come out there and tear your butt with a switch.”

Mathu started getting up, and I shot out of there, headed up the quarters, spanking my butt the way you spank your horse when you want him to run fast. Rufe was hoeing in the garden when I got to his house. The garden was behind the house, and you could always hear Rufe back there working and singing. When I told him what Candy had said, he looked at me a second like he was trying to figure out what Candy wanted him for; then all of a sudden he throwed the hoe down and started running. I yanked my horse around and shot out too, headed up the quarters. I figured this time of day Corrine was in her kitchen eating, so I didn’t bother to
knock on the front door. I just ran through the house back in the kitchen. She was sitting at the table eating greens and rice out of a pan. Eating all by herself. She didn’t have no children or a husband. She was just by herself—eating and looking out of the back door. When I told her what Candy had said, she turned slowly to look at me, and her eyes was all brownish and tired-looking. She didn’t say a thing. Didn’t say “Uh-huh” or nothing. Just looked old and tired-looking. Eating on her front teef—looking old and tired-looking. I turned around and shot out of there, spanking my butt the way you spank a horse when you want that horse to run fast. Reverend Jameson had just come out of the house when I ran in his yard. Me and Reverend Jameson didn’t get along too good. He was always getting on me, saying I should be in the church serving the Lord instead of shooting marbles and playing ball. I told him what Candy had said, and he looked down the quarters, but he couldn’t see a thing from here for all the weeds. ’Fore he could ask me anything, I had already turned and was headed up the quarters. I wasn’t going in the people’s yards anymore, I was just hollering to the people from out in the road. I didn’t see half of the people I was hollering at. I didn’t even know if they was home. You had too much weeds and bushes even to see the houses sometime. I just hollered names; running, spanking my butt, and hollering names. “Candy want y’all at Mathu’s house! Candy want y’all at Mathu’s house! Candy want y’all at Mathu’s house!”

When I came up to Marshall House, I was tired and I could just barely make it across the pasture up to the flower garden. I didn’t go in, I called Janey from the gate. Just calling and calling her. Took her a long time to come out on the garry, and she came out there fussing.

BOOK: A Gathering of Old Men
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