Part 4 out of 4
The sun sank down into the western sky over a city--
Life defeated by death,
Death defeated by life.
The factory chimneys had become pencils of light--
Life defeated by death,
Death defeated by life.
The rocking chair in which Rosalind's mother sat kept creaking. Words
came haltingly from between her white lips. The test of Ma Wescott's
life had come. Always she had been defeated. Now she must triumph in
the person of Rosalind, the daughter who had come out of her body. To
her she must make clear the fate of all women. Young girls grew up
dreaming, hoping, believing. There was a conspiracy. Men made words,
they wrote books and sang songs about a thing called love. Young girls
believed. They married or entered into close relationships with men
without marriage. On the marriage night there was a brutal assault and
after that the woman had to try to save herself as best she could. She
withdrew within herself, further and further within herself. Ma Wescott
had stayed all her life hidden away within her own house, in the
kitchen of her house. As the years passed and after the children came
her man had demanded less and less of her. Now this new trouble had
come. Her daughter was to have the same experience, to go through the
experience that had spoiled life for her.
How proud she had been of Rosalind, going out into the world, making
her own way. Her daughter dressed with a certain air, walked with a
certain air. She was a proud, upstanding, triumphant thing. She did not
need a man.
"God, Rosalind, don't do it, don't do it," she muttered over and over.
How much she had wanted Rosalind to keep clear and clean! Once she also
had been a young woman, proud, upstanding. Could anyone think she had
ever wanted to become Ma Wescott, fat, heavy and old? All through her
married life she had stayed in her own house, in the kitchen of her own
house, but in her own way she had watched, she had seen how things went
with women. Her man had known how to make money, he had always housed
her comfortably. He was a slow, silent man but in his own way he was as
good as any of the men of Willow Springs. Men worked for money, they
ate heavily and then at night they came home to the woman they had
Before she married, Ma Wescott had been a farmer's daughter. She had
seen things among the beasts, how the male pursued the female. There
was a certain hard insistence, cruelty. Life perpetuated itself that
way. The time of her own marriage was a dim, terrible time. Why had she
wanted to marry? She tried to tell Rosalind about it. "I saw him on the
Main Street of town here, one Saturday evening when I had come to town
with father, and two weeks after that I met him again at a dance out in
the country," she said. She spoke like one who has been running a long
distance and who has some important, some immediate message to deliver.
"He wanted me to marry him and I did it. He wanted me to marry him and
I did it."
She could not get beyond the fact of her marriage. Did her daughter
think she had no vital thing to say concerning the relationship of men
and women? All through her married life she had stayed in her husband's
house, working as a beast might work, washing dirty clothes, dirty
dishes, cooking food.
She had been thinking, all through the years she had been thinking.
There was a dreadful lie in life, the whole fact of life was a lie.
She had thought it all out. There was a world somewhere unlike the
world in which she lived. It was a heavenly place in which there was no
marrying or giving in marriage, a sexless quiet windless place where
mankind lived in a state of bliss. For some unknown reason mankind had
been thrown out of that place, had been thrown down upon the earth. It
was a punishment for an unforgivable sin, the sin of sex.
The sin had been in her as well as in the man she had married. She had
wanted to marry. Why else did she do it? Men and women were condemned
to commit the sin that destroyed them. Except for a few rare sacred
beings no man or woman escaped.
What thinking she had done! When she had just married and after her man
had taken what he wanted of her he slept heavily but she did not sleep.
She crept out of bed and going to a window looked at the stars. The
stars were quiet. With what a slow stately tread the moon moved across
the sky. The stars did not sin. They did not touch one another. Each
star was a thing apart from all other stars, a sacred inviolate thing.
On the earth, under the stars everything was corrupt, the trees,
flowers, grasses, the beasts of the field, men and women. They were all
corrupt. They lived for a moment and then fell into decay. She herself
was falling into decay. Life was a lie. Life perpetuated itself by the
lie called love. The truth was that life itself came out of sin,
perpetuated itself only by sin.
"There is no such thing as love. The word is a lie. The man you are
telling me about wants you for the purpose of sin," she said and
getting heavily up went into the house.
Rosalind heard her moving about in the darkness. She came to the screen
door and stood looking at her daughter lying tense and waiting on the
porch. The passion of denial was so strong in her that she felt choked.
To the daughter it seemed that her mother standing in the darkness
behind her had become a great spider, striving to lead her down into
some web of darkness. "Men only hurt women," she said, "they can't help
wanting to hurt women. They are made that way. The thing they call love
doesn't exist. It's a lie."
"Life is dirty. Letting a man touch her dirties a woman." Ma Wescott
fairly screamed forth the words. They seemed torn from her, from some
deep inner part of her being. Having said them she moved off into the
darkness and Rosalind heard her going slowly toward the stairway that
led to the bedroom above. She was weeping in the peculiar half choked
way in which old fat women weep. The heavy feet that had begun to mount
the stair stopped and there was silence. Ma Wescott had said nothing of
what was in her mind. She had thought it all out, what she wanted to
say to her daughter. Why would the words not come? The passion for
denial within her was not satisfied. "There is no love. Life is a lie.
It leads to sin, to death and decay," she called into the darkness.
A strange, almost uncanny thing happened to Rosalind. The figure of her
mother went out of her mind and she was in fancy again a young girl and
had gone with other young girls to visit a friend about to be married.
With the others she stood in a room where white dresses lay on a bed.
One of her companions, a thin, flat breasted girl fell on her knees
beside the bed. A cry arose. Did it come from the girl or from the old
tired defeated woman within the Wescott house? "Don't do it. O,
Rosalind don't do it," pleaded a voice broken with sobs.
The Wescott house had become silent like the street outside and like
the sky sprinkled with stars into which Rosalind gazed. The tenseness
within her relaxed and she tried again to think. There was a thing that
balanced, that swung backward and forward. Was it merely her heart
beating? Her mind cleared.
The song that had come from the lips of Walter Sayers was still singing
Life the conqueror over death,
Death the conqueror over life.
She sat up and put her head into her hands. "I came here to Willow
Springs to put myself to a test. Is it the test of life and death?" she
asked herself. Her mother had gone up the stairway, into the darkness
of the bedroom above.
The song singing within Rosalind went on--
Life the conqueror over death,
Death the conqueror over life.
Was the song a male thing, the call of the male to the female, a lie,
as her mother had said? It did not sound like a lie. The song had come
from the lips of the man Walter and she had left him and had come to
her mother. Then Melville Stoner, another male, had come to her. In him
also was singing the song of life and death. When the song stopped
singing within one did death come? Was death but denial? The song was
singing within herself. What a confusion!
After her last outcry Ma Wescott had gone weeping up the stairs and to
her own room and to bed. After a time Rosalind followed. She threw
herself onto her own bed without undressing. Both women lay waiting.
Outside in the darkness before his house sat Melville Stoner, the male,
the man who knew of all that had passed between mother and daughter.
Rosalind thought of the bridge over the river near the factory in the
city and of the gulls floating in the air high above the river. She
wished herself there, standing on the bridge. "It would be sweet now to
throw my body down into the river," she thought. She imagined herself
falling swiftly and the swifter fall of the birds down out of the sky.
They were swooping down to pick up the life she was ready to drop,
sweeping swiftly and beautifully down. That was what the song Walter
had sung was about.
* * * * *
Henry Wescott came home from his evening at Emanuel Wilson's store. He
went heavily through the house to the back door and the pump. There was
the slow creaking sound of the pump working and then he came into the
house and put the pail of water on the box by the kitchen sink. A
little of the water spilled. There was a soft little slap--like a
child's bare feet striking the floor--
Rosalind arose. The dead cold weariness that had settled down upon her
went away. Cold dead hands had been gripping her. Now they were swept
aside. Her bag was in a closet but she had forgotten it. Quickly she
took off her shoes and holding them in her hands went out into the hall
in her stockinged feet. Her father came heavily up the stairs past her
as she stood breathless with her body pressed against the wall in the
How quick and alert her mind had become! There was a train Eastward
bound toward Chicago that passed through Willow Springs at two in the
morning. She would not wait for it. She would walk the eight miles to
the next town to the east. That would get her out of town. It would
give her something to do. "I need to be moving now," she thought as she
ran down the stairs and went silently out of the house.
She walked on the grass beside the sidewalk to the gate before Melville
Stoner's house and he came down to the gate to meet her. He laughed
mockingly. "I fancied I might have another chance to walk with you
before the night was gone," he said bowing. Rosalind did not know how
much of the conversation between herself and her mother he had heard.
It did not matter. He knew all Ma Wescott had said, all she could say
and all Rosalind could say or understand. The thought was infinitely
sweet to Rosalind. It was Melville Stoner who lifted the town of Willow
Springs up out of the shadow of death. Words were unnecessary. With him
she had established the thing beyond words, beyond passion--the
fellowship in living, the fellowship in life.
They walked in silence to the town's edge and then Melville Stoner put
out his hand. "You'll come with me?" she asked, but he shook his head
and laughed. "No," he said, "I'll stay here. My time for going passed
long ago. I'll stay here until I die. I'll stay here with my thoughts."
He turned and walked away into the darkness beyond the round circle of
light cast by the last street lamp on the street that now became a
country road leading to the next town to the east. Rosalind stood to
watch him go and something in his long loping gait again suggested to
her mind the figure of a gigantic bird. "He is like the gulls that
float above the river in Chicago," she thought. "His spirit floats
above the town of Willow Springs. When the death in life comes to the
people here he swoops down, with his mind, plucking out the beauty of
She walked at first slowly along the road between corn fields. The
night was a vast quiet place into which she could walk in peace. A
little breeze rustled the corn blades but there were no dreadful
significant human sounds, the sounds made by those who lived physically
but who in spirit were dead, had accepted death, believed only in
death. The corn blades rubbed against each other and there was a low
sweet sound as though something was being born, old dead physical life
was being torn away, cast aside. Perhaps new life was coming into the
Rosalind began to run. She had thrown off the town and her father and
mother as a runner might throw off a heavy and unnecessary garment. She
wished also to throw off the garments that stood between her body and
nudity. She wanted to be naked, new born. Two miles out of town a
bridge crossed Willow Creek. It was now empty and dry but in the
darkness she imagined it filled with water, swift running water, water
the color of chrysoprase. She had been running swiftly and now she
stopped and stood on the bridge her breath coming in quick little
After a time she went on again, walking until she had regained her
breath and then running again. Her body tingled with life. She did not
ask herself what she was going to do, how she was to meet the problem
she had come to Willow Springs half hoping to have solved by a word
from her mother. She ran. Before her eyes the dusty road kept coming up
to her out of darkness. She ran forward, always forward into a faint
streak of light. The darkness unfolded before her. There was joy in the
running and with every step she took she achieved a new sense of
escape. A delicious notion came into her mind. As she ran she thought
the light under her feet became more distinct. It was, she thought, as
though the darkness had grown afraid in her presence and sprang aside,
out of her path. There was a sensation of boldness. She had herself
become something that within itself contained light. She was a creator
of light. At her approach darkness grew afraid and fled away into the
distance. When that thought came she found herself able to run without
stopping to rest and half wished she might run on forever, through the
land, through towns and cities, driving darkness away with her
I stated it as definitely as I could. I was in a room with them.
They had tongues like me, and hair and eyes.
I got up out of my chair and said it as definitely as I could.
Their eyes wavered. Something slipped out of their grasp. Had I been
white and strong and young enough I might have plunged through walls,
gone outward into nights and days, gone into prairies, into distances--
gone outward to the doorstep of the house of God, gone to God's throne
room with their hands in mine.
What I am trying to say is this--
By God I made their minds flee out of them.
Their minds came out of them as clear and straight as anything could
I said they might build temples to their lives.
I threw my words at faces floating in a street.
I threw my words like stones, like building stones.
I scattered words in alleyways like seeds.
I crept at night and threw my words in empty rooms of houses in a
I said that life was life, that men in streets and cities might build
temples to their souls.
I whispered words at night into a telephone.
I told my people life was sweet, that men might live.
I said a million temples might be built, that doorsteps might be
At their fleeing harried minds I hurled a stone.
I said they might build temples to themselves.