Authors: Truman Capote
Truman Capote was a native of New Orleans, where he was born on September 30, 1924. His first novel,
Other Voices, Other Rooms
, was an international literary success when first published in 1948, and accorded the author a prominent place among the writers of America’s postwar generation. He sustained this position subsequently with short-story collections (
A Tree of Night
, among others), novels and novellas (
The Grass Harp
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
), some of the best travel writing of our time (
), profiles and reportage that appeared originally in
The New Yorker
The Duke in His Domain
The Muses Are Heard
), a true crime masterpiece (
In Cold Blood
), several short memoirs about his childhood in the South (
A Christmas Memory, The Thanksgiving Visitor
), two plays (
The Grass Harp
House of Flowers
), and two films (
Beat the Devil
Mr. Capote twice won the O. Henry Memorial Short Story Prize and was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He died in August 1984, shortly before his sixtieth birthday.
SECOND VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, JULY
Copyright © 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1952 by Truman Capote
Copyright renewed 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980 by Truman Capote
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1951.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Capote, Truman, 1924–1984
The grass harp: including A tree of night and other stories /
Truman Capote.—1st Vintage International ed.
Cover design by Megan Wilson
Cover photograph by Louise Rosskam/Library of Congress
THE GRASS HARP:
for Miss Sook Faulk
In memory of
affections deep and true
A TREE OF NIGHT
AND OTHER STORIES:
For My Mother and My Father
WHEN WAS IT THAT FIRST
I heard of the grass harp? Long before the autumn we lived in the China tree; an earlier autumn, then; and of course it was Dolly who told me, no one else would have known to call it that, a grass harp.
If on leaving town you take the church road you soon will pass a glaring hill of bonewhite slabs and brown burnt flowers: this is the Baptist cemetery. Our people, Talbos, Fenwicks, are buried there; my mother lies next to my father, and the graves of kinfolk, twenty or more, are around them like the prone roots of a stony tree. Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go to see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices.
Beyond the field begins the darkness of River Woods. It must have been on one of those September days when we were there in the woods gathering roots that Dolly said: Do you hear? that is the grass harp, always telling a story—it knows the stories of all the people on the hill, of all the people who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.
After my mother died, my father, a traveling man, sent me to live with his cousins, Verena and Dolly Talbo, two unmarried ladies who were sisters. Before that, I’d not ever been allowed into their house. For reasons no one ever got quite clear, Verena and my father did not speak. Probably Papa asked Verena to lend him some money, and she refused; or perhaps she did make the loan, and he never returned it. You can be sure that the trouble was over money, because nothing else would have mattered to them so much, especially Verena, who was the richest person in town. The drugstore, the drygoods store, a filling station, a grocery, an office building, all this was hers, and the earning of it had not made her an easy woman.
Anyway, Papa said he would never set foot inside her house. He told such terrible things about the Talbo ladies. One of the stories he spread, that Verena was a morphodyte, has never stopped going around, and the ridicule he heaped on Miss Dolly Talbo was too much even for my mother: she told him he ought to be ashamed, mocking anyone so gentle and harmless.
I think they were very much in love, my mother and father. She used to cry every time he went away to sell his frigidaires. He married her when she was sixteen; she did not live to be thirty. The afternoon she died Papa, calling her name, tore off all his clothes and ran out naked into the yard.
It was the day after the funeral that Verena came to the house. I remember the terror of watching her move up the walk, a whip-thin, handsome woman with shingled peppersalt hair, black, rather virile eyebrows and a dainty cheekmole. She opened the front door and walked right into the house. Since the funeral, Papa had been breaking things, not with fury, but quietly, thoroughly: he would amble into the parlor, pick up a china figure, muse over it a moment, then throw it against the wall. The floor and stairs were littered with cracked glass, scattered
silverware; a ripped nightgown, one of my mother’s, hung over the banister.
Verena’s eyes flicked over the debris. “Eugene, I want a word with you,” she said in that hearty, coldly exalted voice, and Papa answered: “Yes, sit down, Verena. I thought you would come.”
That afternoon Dolly’s friend Catherine Creek came over and packed my clothes, and Papa drove me to the impressive, shadowy house on Talbo Lane. As I was getting out of the car he tried to hug me, but I was scared of him and wriggled out of his arms. I’m sorry now that we did not hug each other. Because a few days later, on his way up to Mobile, his car skidded and fell fifty feet into the Gulf. When I saw him again there were silver dollars weighting down his eyes.
Except to remark that I was small for my age, a runt, no one had ever paid any attention to me; but now people pointed me out, and said wasn’t it sad? that poor little Collin Fenwick! I tried to look pitiful because I knew it pleased people: every man in town must have treated me to a Dixie Cup or a box of Crackerjack, and at school I got good grades for the first time. So it was a long while before I calmed down enough to notice Dolly Talbo.