Authors: James M. Cain
Sure enough, around noon a bunch did come, people from upriver, with more stuff to eat. It was Ohio friendliness. It started Jill off crying, but then she started eating, which seemed to cure the tears. Then a man named Douglas came. He had the next place upriver. He came over to see how things were, so he said, but the rest of them kidded him about it, saying it was just his excuse to drop by and meet the hero. “And heroine,” added Jill, and they all gave her a hand.
They left, and so did Jill, “to pick out some clothes at that shop and be indemnified at the bank so I can draw some cash.”
“Dave, does this change things at all? Your finding out who she is? That she's your stepmother, instead of your mother?”
“How change things?”
“Do you want me to prosecute?”
“Why would I?”
“Well? She deceived you, didn't she?”
“Listen, that was the deal.”
“I was just asking, Dave.”
“In spite of last night, if that's what you're talking about, I've thought of her as my mother for years.”
“If she should be prosecuted, I'd have to help her out.”
SAT AROUND FOR
a couple of hours, with more people dropping by and then leaving pretty soon and the phone ringing every few minutes. Edgren called to say the inquest had been postponed from that day to the day after next. I said: “Just let me know when. I'll be there.”
“Will you tell Mrs. Howell?”
“Sure,” I told him. Well? I would have if I could have, and whether I could, he didn't ask me. Some newspapermen called, especially the one from the
I mean, and I gave them what little news I had, about the postponement of the inquest and Jill finding her locket. Jill called to say she'd moved out of the hospital to a motel in the center of town, one York had found her, and asked whether she should call Edgren and tell him. I said that York could do it, then changed my mind and said she should do it herself. She said she'd be out in a little while.
I went back to thaw out a lamb roast and check whether I had mint jelly. I was just about done when she came, looking so pretty I wanted to cry. She had on a beautiful winter coat, dark brown, and under that a bottle-green mini that was perfect with her hair, beige pantyhose, and loafers she said were “frumpty,” but “are comfortable on my feet.” I didn't think they were frumpy, but couldn't rightly say for looking at her legs, which were beautiful. She didn't mind being told, and in fact lifted the mini so I could see all the way. We were in each other's arms when a car drove up.
When I looked, Uncle Sid was getting out. He was Mom's brother, not only mountain but looked it: six feet, thin, raw-boned, and lanky. He had on a dark-blue flannel shirt, gray striped pants, and black windbreaker. But what you noticed most was the hatâblack felt, kind of rolled up at the sides and pulled down low in front. It didn't make him look mean, the way a wild kid looks mean; somehow it made him look important. But mostly, he looked like someone you shouldn't monkey with. I let him in and introduced him to Jill. He was polite, but cold. He mentioned that he'd seen her picture and, pointing to the pile of papers still on the floor, explained: “I mean in the papers, miss. That was a terrible thing to be snatched from a plane that way.” And then, to me, almost in the same breath: “Where's my sister, Dave? Where's your mother?”
“Uncle Sid, why don't you tell me? It was you she called, wasn't it? Before she left the house? Before she drove off in the car?”
He blinked without answering, and I added: “Well, it was, wasn't it? Where was she headed for? Your place? Flint?” Flint was the village on the Monongahela, where he lived and where she originally came from.
“Well, she might have called me at that,” he said finally in that left-handed mountain way that never quite lines it out straight. “I don't say she didn't.”
“Then she must have said where she was headed for. Was she headed for Flint, or wasn't she?”
“Flint's her home, Dave.”
“Then that's where she figured to go?”
“We could expect her to.”
“It's what I want to know.”
“But maybe she didn't get there.”
“Not yet, you mean, Uncle Sid.”
“She should have, by now.”
“Give her time.”
“Does that hit you funny, Dave? That she should haul out of here, bang, just like that, at three in the morning?”
“It does and didâat the time.”
“What made her do it, then?”
“She got sore at me, is all.”
He sounded ugly as he said it. I counted three before trying to answer, but while I was doing it, Jill broke in: “Me, I was the what. She didn't like me, Mr. Giles.”
“I'm going to marry David.”
“I see...I see.” Then: “You were here, then? You spent the night with Dave? I don't wonder she kind of got sore.”
“No, sir. I was in the hospital.”
“But I was here,” I said. “She came to my room, screaming. She called Jill a Jezebel and other things too, still worse. One thing led to another, like her trying to beat me up.” I showed the tooth marks on my cheek and went on: “Then she slammed back in her room. Later she came out and called you. Finally she went outside and drove off in my car.”
“I don't know.”
“Dave, I asked you where to.”
“Goddamn it,” I roared, going slightly mountain myself, “knock it off with the third degree. I told you, I don't know where to. What's more, I don't much care. Now how'd you like to get the hell out?”
“I'll go when I get ready.”
“I'm telling you: go now.”
I stood up and went over to him, where he'd sat down on the sofa. He got up and started backing away. I picked up his hat, which he'd put beside him, and handed it over to him. He took it and went, still backing, and not once looking at Jill.
!” she exclaimed. “Talk about unruly passengers! He was one for the pilot to deal with. ... And the pilot did!” She gave me a little admiring shake. “I love it, how you deal with them.”
“I never liked Uncle Sid much.”
We watched as Sid drove off down the lane to the highway. “Do they all dress like that in Flint?” she asked.
“You mean the black hat?”
“He looked like one of the bad guys on TV.”
“I hadn't thought of that.”
“Well? He did.”
“The black hat is pretty much a mountain thing. Yes, they dress like thatâat least on Sunday for church. He was all dressed up in your honor.”
“The more I see of mountains, the more valleys appeal to me.”
“This is a valley, right here.”
“The Muskingum ValleyâI love it.”
“And a mountain is looking at you.”
“You're not mountain, at all.”
“But I am, as you ought to know.”
She put her arms around me, kissed me, then kissed me again. “You meanâit was mountain that sighted that Enfield?”
“Springfield,” I corrected.
“It was an Enfield. I know from my days in summer camp. Our camp mother believed in such things. The Enfield bolt-pull is curved. On the Springfield it's straight.”
“You halfway sound mountain yourself.”
“David Howell, I've fallen for youâhard, harder than I want. But if you try to make me go mountain, I'll unfall so fast you'll get dizzy. Do I make myself clear?”
I think she expected a laugh, a hug, and a kiss, and they're what I wanted to give her. But all of a sudden I felt a throb in my throat and heard myself ask her: “You want a straight answer to that?”
“I demand a straight answer to it.”
“Mountain saved your life.”
“All right, all right, all right. Mountain can up and do it, when something has to be done. But don't ask me to take part.”
“Don't ask me not to.”
We did kiss then, kind of an armistice kiss, but warm and loving at that.
“Tell me more about Sid. What does he do for a living in Flint? What does
“Flint's a dead coal camp of the Ajax Coal Corporation. Nobody lives there but Sid. He's caretaker of the mine and is on the company payroll at five hundred dollars a month and a house, rent-free, that the super used to live in. But that's just the beginning for Sid. His real business is booze which ties in with the mine, and does he make it pay!”
“You mean he mines it?”
“All but. But to understand about that, you must understand a coal mine, especially an abandoned coal mine.”
By that time we were on the sofa, with her snuggled tight in my arms. She whispered: “Go on, tell me.”
“In the first place, there's the floor which pumpkins up, as they call it, so it's one hump after another. Then there's the top, which first blisters, then falls down on the pumpkins. You can get through, using a miner's lamp, but you have to crawl. So, in through those old dead entries, the worked-out rooms are waiting, just perfect for moonshine stills. Everything's perfect for liquorâthe underground spring, running down and into the river, that the mash can be dumped into, so there's no removal problemâthe traps, to control the smellâ”
“What are traps?”
“In a coal mine they control the air. A trapper boy sits alongside to open it when a train's coming and close it when it goes through. But for Sid they control the smell, which is the main danger a moonshiner faces. Sid can valve it out through the old original drift, where nobody ever goes. On top of that, what deputy would look for a still in that mine? It would be all his life is worth. I mean he'd be terrified. They leave him strictly alone.”
“And on top of that, there's his helpâminers out of work, but before they mined coal, they moonshined. Dust to dust, mountain to mountain, shine to shine. They're doing what comes naturally to them.”
“And he's Mrs. Howell's brother?”
“He'd visit her sometime. Like one time he stayed for a week, and I felt something went on, I didn't know what. He came in a car, but going back she had to drive him.”
“I don't quite understand.”
“What went with his car?”
“Well? What did?”
“I don't know. I never found out.”
“Why did the mine close down?”
“Seam feathered out. For 40 years they worked it at seven feet. It was a gold mine made of steam coal. Then it feathered down to four, so it couldn't be worked. But thenâhow did you guess it?âit could be worked with a strip shovel. On the other side of the mountain, between the top and daylight, it's only 20 feet, so it's crying to be worked, and it is. They put a spur in from the railroad, seven miles up from Flint, called the station Boulder, and are shipping 10 cars a day.”
“They say strip mines are bad.”
“Not this one. They're smoothing the dirt out again after taking the coal out, planting some in pasture with clover, and putting the rest in trees. To my eye, it looks still better.”
“Always the mountain boy.”
“OK, I'll drive you over and you can have a look.”
“I can't hardly wait.”
E SAT FOR A
long time holding close. Then, around 4:00, she pointed out the window. Another car was turning in from the highway to the lane. It was a Ford, one of the new compacts, and shiny black. It pulled up in front of the house, but when I saw who was getting out, I couldn't help giving a yell. “Who is she?” Jill asked.
“Aunt Myra,” I told her.
“Dave, she's beautiful!”
She was, all right, with her big black eyes, pale skin, and soft willowy figure. She had on a mink coat, one I'd never seen, over a dark red dress. Her straight, black hair was combed over her shoulders. She looked like the queen of England, and we stood there gaping at her. Then Jill gave me a push and I went piling out to greet her. I took her in my arms, kissed her, and held her close, and she clung to me. After she'd kissed me two or three times, I took her inside where Jill was waiting to be introduced. But Aunt Myra didn't wait. “Oh I know who you are!” she burst out. “You're the most famous girl in the whole United States. I'm so happy about it!”
At last Aunt Myra asked: “Dave, where's your mother?”
Jill looked at me, and I closed my eyes to think what I wanted to say. Then I knew. “I think right here,” I told her.
I went over, knelt by her chair, and kissed her. She broke down and wept on my shoulder, then rubbed her face against mine, so her tears were smeared against me. Then I was crying with her.
“Then Little Myra told you?” she asked.
“Yes, she did.”
She kept looking at me, wanting more details, but what was I going to say? I hadn't even told Jill all of what had happened, especially that visit to my bed, and I certainly didn't intend to spill it now. “Actually, she didn't mention why, if she had some particular reason. Just that there was something she'd wanted to tell me, something I ought to know.”
“Where is she, by the way?”
“I don't know.”
? She moved, is that what you mean? To the other house? Or what?”
“I mean, she left.”
“Just took the car and blew.”
“There was a quarrel? Is that it?”
“You could call it that.”
I was getting pretty uncomfortable, not doing well at trying to make up stuff, and wanting to knock it off. But once more Jill got in it, with the same answer she'd given Sid. “About me,” she snapped.