Authors: Ernest J. Gaines
ERNEST J. GAINES
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
A Long Day in November
In My Father’s House
A Gathering of Old Men
A Lesson Before Dying
ERNEST J. GAINES
Of Love and Dust
Ernest J. Gaines was born on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, near New Roads, Louisiana, which is the Bayonne of all his fictional works. His other books include
A Lesson Before Dying, A Gathering of Old Men, In My Father’s House, A Long Day in November, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Bloodline
He divides his time between San Francisco and the University of Southwestern Louisiana, in Lafayette, where he is writer-in-residence.
FIRST VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION, JUNE 1994
Copyright © 1967 by Ernest J. Gaines
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by The Dial Press, New York, in 1967.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gaines, Ernest J., 1933–
Of love and dust / by Ernest J. Gaines.— 1st Vintage Contemporaries ed.
Originally published: New York: Dial Press, 1967.
This book is dedicated to LeVell Holmes and
Alice Ryan Holmes
From my gallery I could see that dust coming down the quarter, coming fast, and I thought to myself, “Who in the world would be driving like that?” I got up to go inside until the dust had all settled. But I had just stepped inside the room when I heard the truck stopping before the gate. I didn’t turn around then because I knew the dust was flying all over the place. A minute or so later, when I figured it had settled, I went back. The dust was still flying across the yard, but it wasn’t nearly as thick now. I looked toward the road and I saw somebody coming in the gate. It was too dark to tell if he was white or colored.
“You Kelly?” he said, when he came up to the steps.
He was a tall, slim, brown-skin boy. He had on a dirty, light-color shirt and dark pants. The collar of his shirt was unbuttoned and the sleeves were rolled up to the elbows.
“I’m Kelly,” I said. “Jim Kelly.”
“He want you out there,” the boy said, nodding toward the gate. “Mind if I have some water?”
“Some in the icebox in the kitchen.”
He came up the steps to go by me, and I could see how he was sweating and I could smell the sweat in his clothes. I went out to the truck where Sidney Bonbon was sitting
behind the steering wheel. Bonbon was the overseer of the plantation. He still had on that sweat-stained white straw hat and he was still wearing the dirty, sweat-smelling khakis he had worn in the field that day. He was looking at Charlie Jordan’s old house on the other side of the road. Charlie had his light on in the front room, and he and somebody else were sitting out on the gallery.
“Yeah?” I said leaning on the truck.
Bonbon turned to me.
“Doing anything?” he said.
“Take him to Baton Rouge. Get his clothes and bring him on back here. He got that room ’side you there.”
I wanted him to tell me more about the boy.
“Anything in there?” he asked.
“A stove; no pipe,” I said. “That’s about all.”
“No; they had an old cot in there, but somebody must have taken it.”
“If he don’t get one in Baton Rouge, they got one in the tool shop,” Bonbon said. “He get the rest from the store.”
I nodded my head. I still wanted to know more about the boy. Who was he? What was he doing there?
“I’m putting him there ’side you; he be working with you from now on,” Bonbon said. “Jonas going in the cotton field.”
The boy came back and stood by the truck.
“You ready?” Bonbon said to me.
“I’m ready,” I said. I turned to the boy. “You shut the door?”
“I closed it.”
“Hop in,” I said.
He got in the middle and I got in beside him. It was blazing
hot in there with all three of us crammed together. Bonbon went down the quarter to turn around at the railroad tracks, then he shot back up the quarter just as fast as he had come down there. I knew what to expect when he came up to his house, so I braced myself. The boy didn’t know what was coming, and when Bonbon slammed on brakes, the boy struck his forehead against the dashboard.
“Goddamn,” he said.
“All right, Geam,” Bonbon said to me. He acted like he hadn’t even heard the curse words.
I put my hand on the door to get out, but I stopped when Bonbon started talking to the boy again.
“Don’t reckond I need to tell you to come back?” he said.
The boy didn’t answer. He was frowning and rubbing his forehead. I touched him with my knee.
“I’m coming back,” he said.
Bonbon didn’t see me do it, but he knew I had touched the boy; and now he just sat there looking at the boy like he expected to have trouble out of him. He raised his hand and pressed the silver button on the dash drawer and took out the gun.
“All right, Geam,” he said.
My name is James Kelly, but Bonbon couldn’t say James. He called me Geam. He was the only man, white or black, who called me Geam.
Bonbon got out the truck and I got out, too. We met at the front. The light was on us a second.
“Leave it here when I get back?” I asked him.
“Yeah. Put the keys in the dash drawer.”
“Taking off,” I said.
“See you tomorrow, Geam,” he said.
He went in the yard and I got in the truck. I shot away from there just as fast as Bonbon had come down the quarter.
“That sonofabitch,” the boy said.
“You’ll get used to it,” I said.
“Not me,” he said. “If they think I’m go’n stay here any five years …”
“Oh, I see. One of them, huh?”
He didn’t say any more. Now he was holding a handkerchief on his forehead. When I came out to the highway, I sat myself good behind the wheel. I wanted to get to Baton Rouge and back quickly as I could.
“Never seen you around here before,” I said. “How did you get to know Marshall Hebert?”
“All right,” he said. “If you want to know what happened you don’t have to beat around the bush. Just come on out and ask me what happened.”
“You don’t have to get mad with me, buddy,” I said. “All I have to do is drive you places.”
“And ask questions,” he said.
“You don’t have to answer them,” I said.
“Well, I killed somebody,” he said. “Marshall Hebert bond me out. And you can tell him this—if you his whitemouth—if he think I’m serving any five years on that plantation he can just haul back and kiss my ass. I’m running ’way from there first chance I get.”