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 two 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 bled, 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 farm-hands, 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. "Women 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
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 Southwestern 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, a lesion, something of the
sort, 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 him peculiarly close to his sister Mary.
It had awakened a strong and determined maternalism in her.
The whole family, the neighbors, on neighboring farms in the
valley, and even the other children at the schoolhouse 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. It 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 him 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
recognition 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 had both found that
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 chasing after the women.
It had been almost a Virginia tradition, 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, every one 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 farmer, with a small place, inherited from his father,
some two hundred acres, lying 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
horsey, 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 comfortable.
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 every one knew, naturally
sensitive, really first class but the men couldn't hang onto land
and the Greys could. In all that section of Virginia, people gave
John Grey credit for being what he was. They respected him. "He's
on the level," 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 the pound, what he would weigh 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 beef.
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 4H Club of the Virginia county
and, even as a lad of nine and ten, had won prizes at steer
judging. At twelve he had produced, no one helping him, doing all
the work himself, more bushels of corn on an acre of land than
any other boy in the State.
It was all 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,
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 him.
"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
"If he is to have but 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 laugher 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 toward the barns. He wanted to go hide
himself from every one. 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 also 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, toward 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
"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, being 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 they 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 sometimes 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
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
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 gray days, but on other days, when the sun came out, the
trees flamed against 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 he would have the trees cut. At first it
was not a very definite decision. "I think I'll have them cut,"
"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 woods. Her mother had often spoken of
it. The man, her grandfather, 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 the trees
took place at the table, at the noon hour, and Mary and Ted heard
It began at the table and was carried on afterwards out of
doors, 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 gray
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 toward 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 the 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 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
have, 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 any more."
"But, Sir . . . you see . . . look . . . the trees there
against that 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 hard all his
life, perhaps, as a young man, gone without things wanted, deeply
hungered for. Some one 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 plows 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, cattle, 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. No 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
Raising horses that could never plow 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
"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 become--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 gray Vandyke beard and a
mustache, 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 toward 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 won't?"
"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 had 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 4H Club prizes, champion young corn-raiser, judge of
steers, land lover, possession lover.
"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 toward 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 toward 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 cross-cut 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 harelip laughed. His laughter was
like the bray of a donkey.
"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
"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 any moment.
"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 by him.
"We women choose to submit.
"This is my affair, more than yours, Don, my son."
A woman hanging onto her thing--the family, created about
The son not seeing things with her eyes. He shook off his
mother's hand, lying 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 blood, the Aspinwahl blood?
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 that 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
"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 toward the barn.
He approached one of the barns and then stopped. The mother,
white now, half ran into the house.
The son returned toward 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 and 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 was driving.
"Well," the father said. If he felt triumphant, he did not
show his feeling.
"Well," said the son, "I have come back."
"Yes, I see," the father said. "They are cutting corn." He
walked toward 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 toward the
distant fields and the son toward 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 can possess and
There was, so obviously, more than one kind of death. For Don
Grey one kind and for the younger brother Ted, soon now perhaps,
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 stumps, 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