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Authors: Ernest J. Gaines

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As I said, the trial went on for three days, and it was orderly most of the time. But every now and then one of the old black fellows, arm in sling, or forehead bandaged, knowing he was in the public eye, would go just a little overboard describing what had happened. Besides, he would use all nicknames for his compatriots—Clabber, Dirty Red, Coot, Chimley, Rooster. This would bring the court to laughing, especially the news people, who took the whole thing as something astonishing but not serious. No one else laughed nearly as much as the news people did; that is, until Mapes took the stand a second time to explain exactly where he was during the shooting. Before, he had told the court that he was
somewhere in the yard. But now the D.A. wanted to know exactly where in the yard. Mapes refused to answer. Judge Reynolds cautioned that if he did not answer he could be charged with negligence of duty, seeing that two men had been killed. Mapes answered, but only for the D.A. to hear. The D.A. demanded that he speak loud enough so that the entire court could hear him. Mapes looked at the D.A. with those hard gray eyes, as if he were about to spring out of that chair and punch him, but instead said: “The whole fight, I was sitting on my ass in the middle of the walk. Luke Will shot me, and I was sitting on my ass in the middle of the walk. Now, is that loud enough?” And he got up from the witness chair and returned to the other seat. That’s when everyone in the courtroom started laughing, including Judge Reynolds. The people passing by out on the street must have thought we were showing a Charlie Chaplin movie in there. That happened the morning of the third day, and until that evening when the trial finally ended, people were still laughing. Mapes, with his left arm in a sling, stayed red all day, and would probably stay red for years to come.

The jury deliberated three hours, then returned with the verdict. After reading it and studying it for a moment, the judge told all defendants to rise, black and white alike. He said since the two men who had killed were both dead, being the same two who had killed Beau and shot Mapes, he could not pass judgment over them, but ask that their souls rest in peace. But for the others, he said he was putting all of them on probation for the next five years, or until their deaths—whichever came first. He said that meant he was taking away their privilege of carrying any kind of firing arm, rifle, shotgun, or pistol, or being within ten feet of anyone else with such weapons. (That was like telling a Louisianian never to say Mardi Gras or Huey Long.) He said if he heard once that any of the defendants picked up a gun, or was within ten feet
of anyone with such weapon, he would send that person to prison for the rest of his natural-born life. He asked if there were any questions. There were no questions, and he slammed down the gavel and said court was adjourned.

Candy and I went out of the courtroom and stood out on the steps and watched the people leave. She asked Mathu if he wanted her to take him back home. He told her no; he told her Clatoo was there in the truck, and he would go back with Clatoo and the rest of the people. The old truck was parked in front of the courthouse, and we watched them all pile in. Candy waved goodbye to them. I felt her other hand against me, searching for my hand; then I felt her squeezing my fingers.

ALSO BY
ERNEST J. GAINES

CATHERINE CARMIER

A compelling love story set in a deceptively bucolic Louisiana countryside, where blacks, Cajuns, and whites maintain an uneasy coexistence.

“[Gaines’s] best writing is marked by what Ralph Ellison, describing the blues, called ‘near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.’ ”


Newsweek
0-679-73891-6

IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE

In St. Adrienne, a small rural black community in Louisiana, the Reverend Phillip Martin comes face to face with the sins of his youth in the person of Robert X, a young, unkempt, vaguely sinister stranger who arrives in town for a mysterious “meeting” with the Reverend.

“A mature and muscular novel … [with] variety and richness.”

—The New York Times Book Review
0-679-72791-4

A LESSON BEFORE DYING

Set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s,
A Lesson Before Dying
tells the story of a young black man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, and a teacher who tries to impart to him his learning and pride before the execution.

“This majestic, moving novel is an instant classic, a book that will be read, discussed and taught beyond the rest of our lives.”

—Chicago Tribune
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
0-679-74166-6

OF LOVE AND DUST

Of Love and Dust
is a tale of a contest of wills between two men—Marcus, a prisoner sent to work in the fields, and Bonbon, his Cajun overseer.

“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 poitions.”


Washington Post
0-679-75248-X

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BOOK: A Gathering of Old Men
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