A Rose for Emily and Other Stories, Page 3William Faulkner
“I heard that dog again last night,” the third said.
“You did?” the Sheriff said.
“It ain’t been home since the day the horse come in with the saddle empty,” the first said.
“It’s out hunting, I reckon,” the Sheriff said. “It’ll come in when it gets hungry.”
Cotton trimmed at the stick. He did not move.
“Niggers claim a hound’ll howl till a dead body’s found,” the second said.
“I’ve heard that,” the Sheriff said. After a time a car came up and the Sheriff got into it. The car was driven by a deputy. “We’ll be late for supper,” the Sheriff said. The car mounted the hill; the sound died away. It was getting toward sundown.
“He ain’t much bothered,” the third said.
“Why should he be?” the first said. “After all, a man can leave his house and go on a trip without telling everybody.”
“Looks like he’d a unsaddled that mare, though,” the second said. “And there’s something the matter with that dog. It ain’t been home since, and it ain’t treed. I been hearing it ever night. It ain’t treed. It’s howling. It ain’t been home since Tuesday. And that was the day Houston rid away from the store here on that mare.”
Cotton was the last one to leave the store. It was after dark when he reached home. He ate some cold bread and loaded the shotgun and sat beside the open door until the hound began to howl. Then he descended the hill and entered the bottom.
The dog’s voice guided him; after a while it ceased, and he saw its eyes. They were now motionless; in the red glare of the explosion he saw the beast entire in sharp relief. He saw it in the act of leaping into the ensuing welter of darkness; he heard the thud of its body. But he couldn’t find it. He looked carefully, quartering back and forth, stopping to listen. But he had seen the shot strike it and hurl it backward, and he turned aside for about a hundred yards in the pitch darkness and came to a slough. He flung the shotgun into it, hearing the sluggish splash, watching the vague water break and recover, until the last ripple died. He went home and to bed.
He didn’t go to sleep though, although he knew he would not hear the dog. “It’s dead,” he told himself lying on his quilt pallet in the dark. “I saw the bullets knock it down. I could count the shot. The dog is dead.” But still he did not sleep. He did not need sleep; he did not feel tired or stale in the mornings, though he knew it was not the dog. He knew he would not hear the dog again, and that sleep had nothing to do with the dog. So he took to spending the nights sitting up in a chair in the door, watching the fireflies and listening to the frogs and the owls.
He entered Varner’s store. It was mid-afternoon; the porch was empty, save for the clerk, whose name was Snopes. “Been looking for you for two-three days,” Snopes said. “Come inside.”
Cotton entered. The store smelled of cheese and leather and new earth. Snopes went behind the counter and reached from under the counter a shotgun. It was caked with mud. “This is yourn, ain’t it?” Snopes said. “Vernon Tull said it was. A nigger squirl hunter found it in a slough.”
Cotton came to the counter and looked at the gun. He did not touch it; he just looked at it. “It ain’t mine,” he said.
“Ain’t nobody around here got one of them old Hadley ten-gages except you,” Snopes said. “Tull says it’s yourn.”
“It ain’t none of mine,” Cotton said. “I got one like it. But mine’s to home.”
Snopes lifted the gun. He breeched it. “It had one empty and one load in it,” he said. “Who you reckon it belongs to?”
“I don’t know,” Cotton said. “Mine’s to home.” He had come to purchase food. He bought it: crackers, cheese, a tin of sardines. It was not dark when he reached home, yet he opened the sardines and ate his supper. When he lay down he did not even remove his overalls. It was as though he waited for something, stayed dressed to move and go at once. He was still waiting for whatever it was when the window turned gray and then yellow and then blue; when, framed by the square window, he saw against the fresh morning a single soaring speck. By sunrise there were three of them, and then seven.
All that day he watched them gather, wheeling and wheeling, drawing their concentric black circles, watching the lower ones wheel down and down and disappear below the trees. He thought it was the dog. “They’ll be through by noon,” he said. “It wasn’t a big dog.”
When noon came they had not gone away; there were still more of them, while still the lower ones dropped down and disappeared below the trees. He watched them until dark came, until they went away, flapping singly and sluggishly up from beyond the trees. “I got to cat,” he said. “With the work I got to do tonight.” He went to the hearth and knelt and took up a pine knot, and he was kneeling, nursing a match into flame, when he heard the hound again; the cry deep, timbrous, unmistakable, and sad. He cooked his supper and ate.
With his axe in his hand he descended through his meager corn patch. The cries of the hound could have guided him, but he did not need it. He had not reached the bottom before he believed that his nose was guiding him. The dog still howled. He paid it no attention, until the beast sensed him and ceased, as it had done before; again he saw its eyes. He paid no attention to them. He went to the hollow cypress trunk and swung his axe into it, the axe sinking helve-deep into the rotten wood. While he was tugging at it something flowed silent and savage out of the darkness behind him and struck him a slashing blow. The axe had just come free; he fell with the axe in his hand, feeling the hot reek of the dog’s breath on his face and hearing the click of its teeth as he struck it down with his free hand. It leaped again; he saw its eyes now. He was on his knees, the axe raised in both hands now. He swung it, hitting nothing, feeling nothing; he saw the dog’s eyes, crouched. He rushed at the eyes; they vanished. He waited a moment, but heard nothing. He returned to the tree.
At the first stroke of the axe the dog sprang at him again. He was expecting it, so he whirled and struck with the axe at the two eyes and felt the axe strike something and whirl from his hands. He heard the dog whimper, he could hear it crawling away. On his hands and knees he hunted for the axe until he found it.
He began to chop at the base of the stump, stopping between blows to listen. But he heard nothing, saw nothing. Overhead the stars were swinging slowly past; he saw the one that looked into his window at two o’clock. He began to chop steadily at the base of the stump.
The wood was rotten; the axe sank helve-deep at each stroke, as into sand or mud; suddenly Cotton knew that it was not imagination he smelled. He dropped the axe and began to tear at the rotten wood with his hands. The hound was beside him, whimpering; he did not know it was there, not even when it thrust its head into the opening, crowding against him, howling.
“Git away,” he said, still without being conscious that it was the dog. He dragged at the body, feeling it slough upon its own bones, as though it were too large for itself; he turned his face away, his teeth glared, his breath furious and outraged and restrained. He could feel the dog surge against his legs, its head in the orifice, howling.
When the body came free, Cotton went over backward. He lay on his back on the wet ground, looking up at a faint patch of starry sky. “I ain’t never been so tired,” he said. The dog was howling, with an abject steadiness. “Shut up,” Cotton said. “Hush. Hush:” The dog didn’t hush. “It’ll be daylight soon.” Cotton said to himself. “I got to get up.”
He got up and kicked at the dog. It moved away, but when he stooped and took hold of the legs and began to back away, the dog was there again, moaning to itself. When he would stop to rest, the dog would howl again; again he kicked at it. Then it began to be dawn, the trees coming spectral and vast out of the miasmic darkness. He could see the dog plainly. It was gaunt, thin, with a long bloody gash across its face. “I’ll have to get shut of you,” he said. Watching the dog, he stooped and found a stick. It was rotten, foul with slime. He clutched it. When the hound lifted its muzzle to howl, he
struck. The dog whirled; there was a long fresh scar running from shoulder to flank. It leaped at him, without a sound; he struck again. The stick took it fair between the eyes. He picked up the ankles and tried to run.
It was almost light. When he broke through the undergrowth upon the river bank the channel was invisible; a long bank of what looked like cotton batting, though he could hear the water beneath it somewhere. There was a freshness here; the edges of the mist licked into curling tongues. He stooped and lifted the body and hurled it into the bank of mist. At the instant of vanishing he saw it—a sluggish sprawl of three limbs instead of four, and he knew why it had been so hard to free from the stump. “I’ll have to make another trip,” he said; then he heard a pattering rush behind him. He didn’t have time to turn when the hound struck him and knocked him down. It didn’t pause. Lying on his back, he saw it in midair like a bird, vanish into the mist with a single short, choking cry.
He got to his feet and ran. He stumbled and caught himself and ran again. It was full light. He could see the stump and the black hole which he had chopped in it; behind him he could hear the swift, soft feet of the dog. As it sprang at him he stumbled and fell and saw it soar over him, its eyes like two cigar-coals; it whirled and leaped at him again before he could rise. He struck at its face with his bare hands and began to run. Together they reached the tree. It leaped at him again, slashing his arms as he ducked into the tree, seeking that member of the body which he did not know was missing until after he had released it into the mist, feeling the dog surging about his legs. Then the dog was gone. Then a voice said:
“We got him. You can come out, Ernest.”
The countyseat was fourteen miles away. They drove to it in a battered Ford. On the back seat Cotton and the Sheriff sat, their inside wrists locked together by handcuffs. They had to drive for two miles before they reached the highroad. It was hot, ten o’clock in the morning. “You want to swap sides out of the sun?” the Sheriff said.
“I’m all right,” Cotton said.
At two o’clock they had a puncture. Cotton and the Sheriff sat under a tree while the driver and the second deputy went across a field and returned with a glass jar of buttermilk and some cold food. They ate, repaired the tire, and went on.
When they were within three or four miles of town, they began to pass wagons and cars going home from market day in town, the wagon teams plodding homeward in their own inescapable dust. The Sheriff greeted them with a single gesture of his fat arm. “Home for supper, anyway,” he said. “What’s the matter, Ernest? Feeling sick? Here, Joe; pull up a minute.”
“I’ll hold my head out,” Cotton said. “Never mind.” The car went on. Cotton thrust his head out the V strut of the top stanchion. The Sheriff shifted his arm, giving him play. “Go on,” Cotton said, “I’ll be all right.” The car went on. Cotton slipped a little farther down in the seat. By moving his head a little he could wedge his throat into the apex of the iron V, the uprights gripping his jaws beneath the ears. He shifted again until his head was tight in the vise, then he swung his legs over the door, trying to bring the weight of his body down sharply against his imprisoned neck. He could hear his vertebræ; he felt a kind of rage at his own toughness; he was struggling then against the jerk on the manacle, the hands on him.
Then he was lying on his back beside the road, with water on his face and in his mouth, though he could not swallow. He couldn’t speak, trying to curse, cursing in no voice. Then he was in the car again, on the smooth street where children played in the big, shady yards in small bright garments, and men and women went home toward supper, to plates of food and cups of coffee in the long twilight of summer.
They had a doctor for him in his cell. When the doctor had gone he could smell supper cooking somewhere—ham and hot bread and coffee. He was lying on a cot; the last ray of copper sunlight slid through a narrow window, stippling the bars upon the wall above his head. His cell was near the common room, where the minor prisoners lived, the ones who were in jail for minor offenses or for three meals a day; the stairway from below came up into that room. It was occupied for the time by a group of Negroes from the chain-gang that worked the streets, in jail for vagrancy or for selling a little whiskey or shooting craps for ten or fifteen cents. One of the Negroes was at the window above the street, yelling down to someone. The others talked among themselves, their voices rich and murmurous, mellow and singsong. Cotton rose and went to the door of his cell and held to the bars, looking at the Negroes.
“Hit,” he said. His voice made no sound. He put his hand to his throat; he produced a dry croaking sound, at which the Negroes ceased talking and looked at him, their eyeballs rolling. “It was all right,” Cotton said, “until it started coming to pieces on me. I could handle that dog.” He held his throat, his voice harsh, dry, and croaking. “But it started coming to pieces on me.…”
“Who him?” one of the Negroes said. They whispered among themselves, watching him, their eyeballs white in the dusk.
“It would a been all right,” Cotton said, “but it started coming to pieces.…”
“Hush up, white man,” one of the Negroes said. “Don’t you be telling us no truck like that.”
“Hit would a been all right,” Cotton said, his voice harsh, whispering. Then it failed him again altogether. He held to the bars with one hand, holding his throat with the other, while the Negroes watched him, huddled, their eyeballs white and sober. Then with one accord they turned and rushed across the room, toward the staircase; he heard slow steps and then he smelled food, and he clung to the bars, trying to see the stairs. “Are they going to feed them niggers before they feed a white man?” he said, smelling the coffee and the ham.
The American—the older one—wore no pink Bedfords. His breeches were of plain whipcord, like the tunic. And the tunic had no long London-cut skirts, so that below the Sam Browne the tail of it stuck straight out like the tunic of a military policeman beneath his holster belt. And he wore simple puttees and the easy shoes of a man of middle age, instead of Savile Row boots, and the shoes and the puttees did not match in shade, and the ordnance belt did not match either of them, and the pilot’s wings on his breast were just wings. But the ribbon beneath them was a good ribbon, and the insigne on his shoulders were the twin bars of a captain. He was not tall. His face was thin, a little aquiline; the eyes intelligent and a little tired. He was past twenty-five; looking at him, one thought, not Phi Beta Kappa exactly, but Skull and Bones perhaps, or possibly a Rhodes scholarship.
One of the men who faced him probably could not see him at all. He was being held on his feet by an American military policeman. He was quite drunk, and in contrast with the heavy-jawed policeman who held him erect on his long, slim, boneless legs, he looked like a masquerading girl. He was possibly eighteen, tall, with a pink-and-white face and blue eyes, and a mouth like a girl’s mouth. He wore a pea-coat, buttoned awry and stained with recent mud, and upon his blond head, at that unmistakable and rakish swagger which no other people can ever approach or imitate, the cap of a Royal Naval Officer.
“What’s this, corporal?” the American captain said. “What’s the trouble? He’s an Englishman. You’d better let their M. P.’s take care of him.”
“I know he is,” the policeman said. He spoke heavily, breathing heavily, in the voice of a man under physical strain; for all his girlish delicacy of limb, the English boy was heavier—or more helpless—than he looked. “Stand up!” the policeman said. “They’re officers!”
The English boy made an effort then. He pulled himself together, focusing his eyes. He swayed, throwing his arms about the policeman’s neck, and with the other hand he saluted, his hand flicking, fingers curled a little, to his right ear, already swaying again and catching himself again. “Cheer-o, sir,” he said. “Name’s not Beatty, I hope.”
“No,” the captain said.
“Ah,” the English boy said. “Hoped not. My mistake. No offense, what?”
r /> “No offense,” the captain said quietly. But he was looking at the policeman. The second American spoke. He was a lieutenant, also a pilot. But he was not twenty-five and he wore the pink breeches, the London boots, and his tunic might have been a British tunic save for the collar.
“It’s one of those navy eggs,” he said. “They pick them out of the gutters here all night long. You don’t come to town often enough.”
“Oh,” the captain said. “I’ve heard about them. I remember now.” He also remarked now that, though the street was a busy one—it was just outside a popular café—and there were many passers, soldier, civilian, women, yet none of them so much as paused, as though it were a familiar sight. He was looking at the policeman. “Can’t you take him to his ship?”
“I thought of that before the captain did,” the policeman said. “He says he can’t go aboard his ship after dark because he puts the ship away at sundown.”
“Puts it away?”
“Stand up, sailor!” the policeman said savagely, jerking at his lax burden. “Maybe the captain can make sense out of it. Damned if I can. He says they keep the boat under the wharf. Run it under the wharf at night, and that they can’t get it out again until the tide goes out tomorrow.”
“Under the wharf? A boat? What is this?” He was now speaking to the lieutenant. “Do they operate some kind of aquatic motorcycles?”
“Something like that,” the lieutenant said. “You’ve seen them—the boats. Launches, camouflaged and all. Dashing up and down the harbor. You’ve seen them. They do that all day and sleep in the gutters here all night.”
“Oh,” the captain said. “I thought those boats were ship commanders’ launches. You mean to tell me they use officers just to—”
“I don’t know,” the lieutenant said. “Maybe they use them to fetch hot water from one ship to another. Or buns. Or maybe to go back and forth fast when they forget napkins or something.”