"Brother Death" by Sherwood Anderson
There were the two oak stumps, knee-high to a not-too-tall man and cut quite
squarely across. They became to the children objects of wonder. They had seen
the two trees cut, but had run away just as the trees fell. They hadn't thought
of the two stumps, to be left standing there; hadn't even looked at them?
Afterwards Ted said to his sister Mary, speaking of the stumps: "I wonder
if they bleed, like legs, when a surgeon cuts a man's leg off." He had been
hearing war stories. A man came to the farm one day to visit one of the
farmhands, a man who had been in the World War and had lost an arm.
He stood in one of the barns talking. When Ted said that, Mary spoke up at
once. She hadn't been lucky enough to be at the barn when the one-armed man was
there talking, and was jealous. "Why not a woman or a girl's leg?" she
said, but Ted said the idea was silly men and girls don't get their legs and
arms cut off," he declared. "Why not? I'd just like to know why not?"
Mary kept saying.
It would have been something if they had stayed, that day the trees were
cut. "We might have gone and touched the places," Ted said. He meant
the stumps. Would they have been warm? Would they have bled? They did go and
touch the places afterwards, but it was a cold day and the stumps were cold.
Ted stuck to his point that only men's arms and legs were cut off, but Mary
thought of automobile accidents. "You can't think just about wars. There
might be an automobile accident," she declared, but Ted wouldn't be
They were both children, but something had made them both in an odd way old.
Mary was fourteen and Ted eleven, but Ted wasn't strong and that rather evened
things up. They were the children of a well-to-do Virginia farmer named John
Grey in the Blue Ridge country in South-western Virginia. There was a wide
valley called the 'Rich Valley', with a railroad and a small river running
through it and high mountains in sight, to the north and south. Ted had some
kind of heart disease, the result of a severe attack of diphtheria when he was a
child of eight. He was thin and not strong, but curiously alive. The doctor said
he might die at any moment, might just drop down dead. The fact had drawn trim
peculiarly close to his sister Mary. It - had awakened a strong and determined
maternalism in her.
The whole family, the neighbours, on neighbouring farms in the valley, and
even the other children at the school-house where they went to school,
recognized something as existing between the two
children. "Look at them going along there," people said. "They
do seem to have good times together, but they are so serious. For such young
children they are too serious. Still, I suppose, under the circumstances, it's
natural." Of course, everyone knew about Ted. The boy's illness had done
something to Mary. At fourteen she was both a child and a grown woman. The woman
side of her kept popping out at unexpected moments. She had sensed something
concerning her brother Ted. It was because he was as he was, having that kind of
a heart, a heart likely at any moment to stop beating, leaving trim dead, cut
down like a young tree. The others in the Grey family, that is to say, the older
ones, the mother and father and an older brother, Don, who was eighteen now,
recognized something as belonging to the two children, being, as it were,
between them, but the recogniti on wasn't very definite. People in your own
family are likely at any moment to do strange, sometimes hurtful things to you.
You have to watch them.
Ted and Mary both found that out.
The brother Don was like the father, already at eighteen almost a grown man.
He was that sort, the kind people speak of, saying: "He's a good man. He'll
make a good solid dependable man." The father, when he was a young man,
never drank, never went chasing the girls, was never wild. There had been enough
wild young ones in the Rich Valley when he was a lad. Some of them had inherited
big farms and had lost them, gambling, drinking, fooling with fast horses and
chas ing after the women. It had been almost a Virginia traditon, but John Grey
was a land man. All the Greys were. There were other large cattle-farms owned by
Greys up and down the valley.
John Grey, everyone said, was a natural cattle man. He knew beef cattle, of
the big so-called export type, how to pick and feed them to make beef. He knew
how and where to get the right kind of young
stock to turn into his fields. It was blue-grass country. Big beef cattle
went directly off the pastures to market. The Grey farm contained over twelve
hundred acres, most of it in blue grass.
The father was a land man, land-hungry. He had begun as a cattle farrner,
with a small place,
inherited from his father, some two hundred acres, Iying next to what was
then the big Aspinwahl place, and, after he began, he never stopped getting more
land. He kept cutting in on the Aspinwahls, who were a rather horsy, fast lot.
They thought of themselves as Virginia aristocrats, having, as they weren't so
modest about pointing out, a family going back and back, family tradition,
guests always being entertained, fast horses kept, money being bet on fast
horses. John Grey getting their land, now twenty acres, then thirty, then fifty,
until at last he got the old Aspinwahl house, with one of the Aspinwahl girls,
not a young one, not one of the best-looking ones, as wife. The Aspinwahl place
was down, by that time, to less than a hundred acres, but he went on, year after
year, always being careful and shrewd, making every penny count, never wasting a
cent, adding and adding to what was now the Grey place. The former Aspinwahl
house was a large old brick house with fireplaces in all the rooms, and was very
People wondered why Louise Aspinwahl had married John Grey, but when they
were wondering they smiled. The Aspinwahl girls were all well educated, had all
been away to college, but Louise wasn't so pretty. She got nicer after marriage,
suddenly almost beautiful. The Aspinwahls were, as everyone knew, really
first-class, but the men couldn't hang on to land and the Greys could. In all
that section of Virginia people gave John Grey credit for being what he was.
They respected trim. "He's on the lever," they said, "as honest
as a horse. He has cattle sense, that's it." He could run his big hand down
over the flank of a steer and say, almost to a pound, what he would weight on
the scales, or he could look at a calf or a yearling and say, "He'll do,"
and he would do. A steer is a steer He isn't supposed to do anything but make
There was Don, the oldest son of the Grey family. He was so evidently
destined to be a Grey, to be another like his father. He had long been a star in
the Club of the Virginia country and, even as a lad of nine and ten, had won
prizes at steer-judging. At twelve he had produced, no one helping trim, doing
all the work himself, more bushels of corn on an acre of land than any other boy
in the State.
It was a little amazing, even a bit queer to Mary Grey, being as she was a
girl peculiarly conscious, so old and young, so aware. There was Don, the older
brother, big and strong of body, like the father,
and there was the young brother, Ted. Ordinarily, in the ordinary course of
life, she being what she was - female - it would have been quite natural and
right for her to have given her young girl's admiration to Don, but she didn't.
For some reason, Don barely existed for her. He was outside, not in it, while
for her Ted, the seemingly weak one of the family, was everything.
Still there Don was, so big of body, so quiet, so apparently sure of
himself. The father had begun, as a young cattle man, with the two hundred
acres, and now he had the twelve hundred. What would Don Grey do when he
started? Already he knew, although he didn't say anything, that he wanted to
start. He wanted to run things, be his own boss. His father had offered to send
him away to college, to an agricultural college, but he wouldn't go "No. I
can learn more here," he said.
Already there was a contest, always kept under the surface, between the
father and son. It concerned ways of doing things, decisions to be made. As yet
the son always surrendered.
It is like that in a family, little isolated groups formed within the larger
group, jealousies, concealed hatreds, silent battles secretly going on - among
the Greys, Mary and Ted, Don and his father, the mother and the two younger
children, Gladys, a girl child of six now, who adored her brother Don, and
Harry, a boy child of two.
As for Mary and Ted, they lived within their own world, but their own world
had not been established without a struggle. The point was that Ted, having the
heart that might at any moment stop beating, was always being treated tenderly
by the others. Only Mary understood that - how it infuriated and hurt trim.
"No, Ted, I wouldn't do that."
"Now, Ted, do be careful."
Sometimes Ted went white and trembling with anger. Don, the father, the
mother, all keeping at him like that. It didn't matter what he wanted to do,
learn to drive one of the two family cars, climb a tree to find a bird's nest,
run a race with Mary. Naturally, being on a farm, he wanted to try his hand at
breaking a colt, beginning with him, getting a saddle on, having it out with
him. "No, Ted. You can't." He had learned to swear, picking it up from
the farm-hands and from boys at the country school. "Hell! Goddam!" he
said to Mary. Only Mary understood how he felt, and she had not put the matter
very definitely into words, not even to herself. It was one of the things that
made her old when she was so young. It made her stand aside from the others of
the family, aroused in her a curious determination. "They shall not."
She caught herself saying the words to herself. "They shall not."
"If he is to have a few years of life, they shall not spoil what he is
to have. Why should they make him die, over and over, day after day?" The
thoughts in her did not become so definite. She had resentment against the
others. She was like a soldier, standing guard over Ted.
The two children drew more and more away, into their own world, and only
once did what Mary felt come to the surface. That was with the mother.
It was on an early summer day and Ted and Mary were playing in the rain.
They were on a side porch of the house, where the water came pouring down from
the eaves. At a corner of the porch there was a great stream, and first Ted and
then Mary dashed through it, returning to the porch with clothes soaked and
water running in streams from soaked hair. There was something joyous, the feel
of the cold water on the body, under clothes, and they were shrieking with
laughter when the mother came to the door. She looked at Ted. There was fear and
anxiety in her voice. "Oh, Ted, you know you mustn't, you mustn't."
Just that. All the rest implied. Nothing said to Mary. There it was. "Oh,
Ted, you mustn't. You mustn't run hard, climb trees, ride horses. The least
shock to you may do it." It was the old story again, and of course, Ted
understood. He went white and trembled. Why couldn't the rest understand that
was a hundred-times worse for him? On that day, without answering his mother, he
ran off the porch and through the rain towards the barns. He wanted to go and
hide himself from everyone. Mary knew how he felt.
She got suddenly very old and very angry. The mother and daughter stood
looking at each other, the woman nearing fifty and the child of fourteen. It was
getting everything in the family reversed. Mary felt that but felt she had to do
something. "You should have more sense, Mother," she said seriously.
She had gone white - her lips trembled. "You mustn't do it any more. Don't
you ever do it again."
"What, child?" There was astonishment and half-anger in the
mother's voice. "Always making him think of it," Mary said. She wanted
to cry but didn't.
The mother understood. There was a queer tense moment before Mary also
walked off, towards the barns, in the rain. It wasn't all so clear. The mother
wanted to fly at the child, perhaps shake her for daring to be so impudent. A
child like that to decide things - to dare to reprove her mother. There was so
much implied - even that Ted be allowed to die, quickly, suddenly, rather than
that death, danger of sudden death, be brought again and again to his attention.
There were values in life, implied by a child's words: "Life, what is it
worth? Is death the most terrible thing?" The mother turned and went
silently into the house while Mary, going to the barns, presently found Ted. He
was in an empty horse stall, standing with his back to the wall, staring. There
were no explanations. "Well," Ted said presently, and "Come on,
Ted," Mary replied. It was necessary to do something, even perhaps more
risky than playing in the rain. The rain was already passing. "Let's take
off our shoes," Mary said. Going barefoot was one of the things forbidden
Ted. They took their shoes off and, leaving them in the barn, went into an
orchard. There was a small creek below the orchard, a creek that went down to
the river and now it would be in flood. They went into it and once Mary got
swept off her feet so that Ted had to pull her out. She spoke then. "I
told Mother," she said, looking serious.
"What?" Ted said. "Gee, I guess maybe I saved you from
drowning," he added.
"Sure you did," said Mary. "I told her to let you alone."
She grew suddenly fierce. "They've all got to - they've got to let you
alone," she said.
There was a bond. Ted did his share. He was imaginative and could think of
plenty of risky things to do. Perhaps the mother spoke to the father and to Don,
the older brother. There was a new inclination in the family to keep hands off
the pair, and the fact seemed to give the two children new room in life.
Something seemed to open out. There was a little inner world created, always
every day, bang re-created, and in it there was a kind of new security. It
seemed to the two children - they could not have put their feeling into words -
that, being in their own created world, feeling a new security there, they could
suddenly look out at the outside world and see, in a new way, what was going on
out there in the world that belonged also to others.
It was a world to be thought about, looked at, a world of drama too, the
drama of human relations, outside their own world, in a family, on a farm, in a
farmhouse.... On a farm, calves and yearling steers arriving to be fattened,
great heavy steers going off to market, colts being broken to work or to saddle,
lambs born in the late winter. The human side of life was more difficult, to a
child often incomprehensible, but after the speech to the mother, on the porch
of the house that day when it rained, it seemed to Mary almost as though she and
Ted had set up a new family. Everything about the farm, the house and the barns,
got nicer. There was a new freedom. The two children walked along a country
road, returning to the farm from school in the late afternoon. There were other
children in the road but the two managed to fall behind, or they got ahead.
There were plans made.
"I'm going to be a nurse when I grow up," Mary said. She may have
remembered dimly the woman nurse, from the county-seat town, who had come to
stay in the house when Ted was so ill. Ted said that as soon as he could - it
would be when he was younger yet than Don was now - he intended to leave and go
out West. . . far out, he said. He wanted to be a cowboy or a bronco-buster or
something, and that failing, he thought he would be a railroad engineer. The
railroad that went down through the Rich Valley crossed a corner of the Grey
farm, and, from the road in the afternoon, they could see trains, quite far
away, the smoke rolling up. There was a faint rumbling noise, and, on clear
days, they could see the flying piston-rods of the engines.
As for the two stumps in the field near the house, they were what was left
of two oak trees. The children had known the trees. They were cut one day in the
early fall. There was a back-porch to the Grey house - the house that had once
been the seat of the Aspinwahl family - and from the porch steps a path led down
to a stone spring-house. A spring came out of the ground just there, and there
was a tiny stream that went along the edge of a field, past two large barns and
out across a meadow to a creek - called a "branch" in Virginia - and
the two trees stood close together beyond the spring- house and the fence.
They were lusty trees, their roots down in the rich, always damp soil, and
one of them had a great limb that came down near the ground, so that Ted and
Mary could climb into it and out on another limb into its brother tree, and in
the fall, when other trees, at the front and side of the house, had shed their
leaves, blood-red leaves still clung to the two oaks. They were like dry blood
on grey days, but on other days, when the sun came out, the trees flamed against
the distant hills The leaves clung, whispering and talking when the wind blew,
so that the trees themselves seemed carrying on a conversation.
John Grey had decided that he would have the trees cut. At first it was not
a very definite decision. "I think I'll have them cut," he announced.
"But why?" his wife asked. The trees meant a good deal to her.
They had been planted just in that spot, by her grandfather, she said,
having in mind just a certain effect. "You see how, in the fall, when you
stand on the back-porch, they are so nice against the hills." She spoke of
the trees, already quite large, having been brought from a distant wood. Her
mother had often spoken of it. The man, her grand-father, had a special feeling
for trees. "An Aspinwahl would do that," John Grey said. "There
is enough yard, here about the house, and enough trees. They do not shade the
house or the yard. An Aspinwahl would go to all that trouble for trees and then
plant them where grass might be growing" He had suddenly determined, a
half-formed determination in him suddenly hardening. He had perhaps heard too
much of the Aspinwahls and their ways. The conversation regarding trees took
place at the table, at the noon hour, and Mary and Ted heard it a.
It began at the table and was carried on afterwards out of doors, so in the
yard back of the house. The wife had followed her husband out. He always left
the table suddenly and silently, getting quickly up and going out heavily,
shutting doors with a bang as he went. "Don't, John," the wife said,
standing on the porch and calling to her husband. It was a cold day, but the sun
was out and the trees were like great bonfires against grey distant fields and
hills. The older son of the family, young Don, the one so physically like the
father and apparently so like him in every way, had come out of the house with
the mother, followed by the two children, Ted and Mary, and at first Don said
nothing, but when the father did not answer the mother's protest but started
towards the barn, he also spoke. What he said was obviously the determining
thing hardening the father.
To the two other children - they had walked a little aside and stood
together watching and listening - there was something. There was their own
child's world. "Let us alone and we'll let you alone." It wasn't as
definite as that. Most of the definite thoughts about what happened in the yard
that afternoon came to Mary Grey long afterwards, when she was a grown woman. At
the moment there was merely a sudden sharpening of the feeling of isolation, a
wall between herself and Ted and others. The father, even then perhaps, seen in
a new light. Don and the mother seen in a new light. There was something, a
driving destructive thing in life, in all relationships between people. All of
this was felt dimly that day - she always believed both by herself and Ted - but
only thought out long afterwards, after Ted was dead. There was the farm her
father had won from the Aspinwahls - greater persistence, greater shrewdness.
In a family, little remarks dropped from time to time, an impression slowly
built up. The father, John Grey, was a successful man. He had acquired. He
owned. He was the commander, the one having power to do his will And the power
had run out and covered not only other human lives, impulses in others, wishes,
hungers in others... he himself might not even understand... but it went far out
beyond that. It was, curiously, the power also of life and death. Did Mary Grey
think such thoughts at that moment? . . . She couldn't have. . .
Still, there was her own peculiar situation, her relationship with her
brother Ted, who was to die. Ownership that gave curious rights, dominances -
fathers over children, men and women over lands, houses, factories in cities,
fields. "I will have the trees in that orchard cut. They produce apples but
not of the right sort. There is no money in apples of that sort anymore."
"But, Sir ... you see. . . look... the trees there against the hill,
against the sky."
It would have been such nonsense to think of the father of Mary Grey as a
man without feeling. He had struggled all his life, perhaps, as a young man,
gone without things wanted, deeply hungered for.
Someone has to manage things in this life. Possessions mean power, the right
to say, "do this" or "do that". If you struggle long and
hard for a thing it becomes infinitely sweet to you.
Was there a kind of hatred between the father and the older son of the Grey
family? "You are one also who has this thing - the impulse to power, so
like my own. Now you are young and I am growing old." Admiration mixed with
fear. If you would retain power it will not do to admit fear.
The young Don was so curiously like the father. There were the same lines
about the jaws, the same eyes. They were both heavy men. Already the young man
walked like the father, slammed doors as did the father. There was the same
curious lack of delicacy of thought and touch - the heaviness that ploughs
through, gets things done. When John Grey had married Louise Aspinwahl, he was
already a mature man, on his way to success. Such men do not marry young and
recklessly. Now he was nearing sixty and there was the son - so like himself,
having the same kind of strength.
Both land-lovers, possession-lovers. "It is my farm, my house, my
horses, my castle, sheep." Soon now, another ten years, fifteen at the
most, and the father would be ready for death. "See, already my hand slips
a little. All of this to go out of my grasp." He, John Grey, had not got
all of these possessions so easily. It had taken much patience, much
persistence. N o one but himself would ever quite know. Five, ten, fifteen years
of work and saving, getting the Aspinwahl farm piece by piece. "The fools!"
They had liked to think of themselves as aristocrats, throwing the land away,
now twenty acres, now thirty, now fifty.
Raising horses that could never plough an acre of land.
And they had robbed the land, too, had never put anything back, doing
nothing to enrich it, build it up. Such a one thinking: "I'm an Aspinwahl,
a gentleman. I do not soil my hands at the plough."
"Fools who do not know the meaning of land owned, possessions, money -
responsibility. It is they who are second-rate men."
He had got an Aspinwahl for a wife and, as it had turned out, she was the
best, the smartest, and, in the end, the best-looking one of the lot.
And now there was his son, standing at the moment near the mother; They had
both come down off the porch. It would be natural and right for this one - he
being what he already was, what he would be come - for him, in his turn, to come
into possession, to take command.
There would be, of course, the rights of the other children. If you have the
stuff in you (John Grey felt that his son Don had) there is a way to manage. You
buy the others out, make arrangements. There was Ted - he wouldn't be alive -
and Mary and the two younger children. "The better for you if you have to
All of this, the implication of the moment of sudden struggle between a
father and son, coming slowly afterwards to the man's daughter, as yet little
more than a child. Does the drama take place when the seed is put into the
ground or afterwards when the plant has pushed out of the ground and the bud
breaks open, or still later, when the fruit ripens? There were the Greys with
their ability - slow, saving, able, determined, patient. Why had they superseded
the Aspinwahls in the Rich Valley? Aspinwahl blood also in the two children,
Mary and Ted.
There was an Aspinwahl man - called "Uncle Fred", a brother to
Louise Grey - who came sometimes to the farm. He was a rather striking-looking
tall old man with a grey vandyke beard and a moustache, somewhat shabbily
dressed but always with an indefinable air of class. He came from the
county-seat town, where he lived now with a daughter who had married a merchant,
a polite courtly old man who always froze into a queer silence in the presence
of his sister's husband.
The son Don was standing near the mother on the day in the Fall, and the two
children, Mary and Ted, stood apart.
"Don't, John," Louise Grey said again. The father, who had
started away towards the barns, stopped.
"Well, I guess I will."
"No, you won't," said young Don, speaking suddenly. There was a
queer fixed look in his eyes. It had flashed into life - something that was
between the two men. "I possess". . . "I will possess." The
father wheeled and looked sharply at the son, and then ignored him.
For a moment the mother continued pleading.
"'But why, why?"
"They make too much shade. The grass does not grow."
"But there is so much grass, so many acres of grass." John Grey
was answering his wife, but now again he looked at his son. There were unspoken
words flying back and forth.
"I possess. I am in command here. What do you mean by telling me that I
"Ha! So! You possess now but soon I will possess."
"I'll see you in hell first."
"You fool! Not yet! Not yet!"
None of the words set down above was spoken at the moment, and afterwards
the daughter Mary never did remember the exact words that passed between the two
men. There was a sudden quick flash of determination in Don - even perhaps
sudden determination to stand by the mother - even perhaps something else - a
feeling in the young Don out of the Aspinwahl blood in him - for the moment tree
love superseding grass love - grass that would fatten steers.
Winner of Club prizes, champion young corn-raiser, judge of steers,
"You won't," Don said again.
"Won't cut those trees?"
The father said nothing more at the moment, but walked away from the little
group towards the barns. The sun was still shining brightly. There was a sharp
cold little wind The two trees were like bonfires lighted against distant hills.
It was the noon hour and there were two men, both young, employees on the
farm, who lived in a small tenant house beyond the barns. One of them, a man
with a harelip, was married, and the other, a rather handsome silent young man,
boarded with him. They had just come from the midday meal and were going towards
one of the barns. It was the beginning of the fall corn-cutting time and they
would be going together to a distant field to cut corn.
The father went to the barn and returned with the two men. They brought axes
and a long saw. "I want you to cut those two trees."
There was something, a blind, even stupid determination in the man, John
Grey. And at that moment his wife, the mother of his children . . .
There was no way any of the children could ever know how many moments of the
sort she had been through. She had married John Grey. He was her man.
"If you do, Father. . . " Don Grey said coldly.
"Do as I tell you! Cut those two trees!" This addressed to the two
workmen. The one who had a hare- lip laughed. His laughter was like the bray of
"Don't," said Louise Grey, but she was not addressing her husband
this time. She stepped to her son and put a hand on his arm.
"Don't cross him. Don't cross my man." Could a child like Mary
Grey comprehend? It takes time to understand things that happen in life. Life
unfolds slowly to the mind. Mary was standing with Ted,
whose young face was white and tense. Death at his elbow. At any moment. At
"I have been through this a hundred times. That is the way this man I
married has succeeded. Nothing stops him. I married him; I have had my children
"We women choose to submit. "
"This is my affair, more than yours, Don, my son."
A woman hanging on to her thing - the family, created about her. The son not
seeing things with her eyes. He shook off his mother's hand, Iying on his arm.
Louise Grey was younger than her husband,
but, if he was now nearing sixty, she was drawing near fifty. At the moment
she looked very delicate and fragile There was something, at the moment, in her
bearing. . . Was there, after all, something in
In a dim way perhaps, at the moment, the child Mary did comprehend. Women
and their men. For her then, at that time, there was but one male, the child
Ted. Afterwards she remembered how he
looked at the moment, the curiously serious old look on his young face.
There was even, she thought later, a kind of contempt for both the father and
brother, as though he might have been saying to himself - he couldn't really
have been saying it - he was too young: "Well, we'll see. This is
something. These foolish ones - my father and my brother. I myself haven't long
to live. I'll see what I can, while I do live. "
The brother Don stepped over near to where his father stood.
"If you do, Father. . " he said again.
"I'll walk off this farm and I'll never come back."
"All right. Go then."
The father began directing the two men who had begun cutting the trees, each
man taking a tree. The young man with the harelip kept laughing, the laughter
like the bray of a donkey. "Stop that," the father said sharply, and
the sound ceased abruptly. The son Don walked away, going rather aimlessly
towards the barn. He approached one of the barns and then stopped. The mother,
white now, half ran into the house.
The son returned towards the house, passing the two younger children without
looking at them, but did not enter. The father did not look at him. He went
hesitatingly along a path at the front of the house and through a gate into a
road. The road ran for several miles down through the valley and then, turning,
went over a mountain to the county-seat town.
As it happened, only Mary saw the son Don when he returned to the farm.
There were three or four tense days. Perhaps, all the time, the mother and son
had been secretly in touch. There was a telephone in the house. The father
stayed all day in the fields, and when he was in the house was silent.
Mary was in one of the barns on the day when Don came back and when the
father and son met It was an odd meeting.
The son came, Mary always afterwards thought, rather sheepishly. The father
came out of a horse's stall. He had been throwing corn to work-horses. Neither
the father nor son saw Mary. There was a car parked in the barn and she had
crawled into the driver's seat, her hands on the steering-wheel, pretending she
"Well," the father said. If he felt triumphant, he did not show
"Well," said the son, "I have come back."
"Yes, I see," the father said. "They are cutting corn."
He walked towards the barn door and then stopped. "It will be yours soon
now," he said. "You can be boss then."
He said no more and both men went away, the father towards the distant
fields and the son towards the house. Mary was afterwards quite sure that
nothing more was ever said.
What had the father meant ?
"When it is yours you can be boss." It was too much for the child.
Knowledge comes slowly. It meant:
"You will be in command, and for you, in your turn, it will be
necessary to assert."
"Such men as we are cannot fool with delicate stuff. Some men are meant
to command and others must obey. You can make them obey in your turn.
"There is a kind of death.
"Something in you must die before you possess and command."
There was, so obviously, more than one kind of death. For Don Grey one kind
and for the younger brother Ted, soon now perhaps, another.
Mary ran out of the barn that day, wanting eagerly to get out into the
light, and afterwards, for a long time, she did not try to think her way through
what had happened. She and her brother Ted did, however, afterwards, before he
died, discuss quite often the two trees. They went on a cold day and put their
fingers on the sturnps, but the stumps were cold. Ted kept asserting that only
men got their legs and arms cut off, and she protested. They continued doing
things that had been forbidden Ted to do, but no one protested, and, a year or
two later, when he died, he died during the night in his bed.
But while he lived, there was always, Mary afterwards thought, a curious
sense of freedom, something that belonged to him that made it good, a great
happiness, to be with him. It was, she finally thought, because, having to die
his kind of death, he never had to make the surrender his brother had made - to
be sure of possessions, success, his time to command - would never have to face
the more subtle and terrible death that had come to his older brother.