REQUIEM FOR A NUN
REQUIEM FOR A NUN
Act One, 179
THE COURTHOUSE (A Name for the City)
Act Two, 233
THE GOLDEN DOME (Beginning Was the Word)
Act Three, 296
THE JAIL (Nor Even Yet Quite Relinquish-)
THE COURTHOUSE (A Name for the City)
The courthouse is less old than the town, which began somewhere under the
turn of the century as a Chickasaw Agency trading-post and so continued for
almost thirty years before it discovered, not that it lacked a depository
for its records and certainly not that it needed one, but that only by
creating or anyway decreeing one, could it cope with a situation which
otherwise was going to cost somebody money;
The settlement had the records; even the simple dispossession
of Indians begot in time a minuscule of archive, let alone the
normal litter of man's ramshackle confederation against en
vironment-that time and that wilderness-in this case, a
meagre, fading, dogeared, uncorrelated, at times illiterate
sheaf of land grants and patents and transfers and deeds, and
tax- and militia-rolls, and bills of sale for slaves, and counting
house lists of spurious currency and exchange rates, and liens
and mortgages, and listed rewards for escaped or stolen
Negroes and other livestock, and diary-like annotations of
births and marriages and deaths and public hangings and land
auctions, accumulating slowly for those three decades in a
sort of iron pirate's chest in the back room of the postoffice
tradingpost-store, until that day thirty years later when, be
cause of a jailbreak compounded by an ancient monster iron
180 WILLIAM FAULKNER
padlock transported a thousand miles by horseback from Carolina, the box was
removed to a small new leanto room like a wood- or tool-shed built two days
ago against one outside wall of the morticed-log mud-chinked shake-down
jail; and thus was born the Yoknapatawpha County courthouse: by simple
fortuity, not only less old than even the jail, but come into existence at
all by chance and accident: the box containing the documents not moved from
any place, but simply to one; removed from the trading-post back room not
for any reason inherent in either the back room or the box, but on the con-
trary: which-the box-was not only in nobody's way in the back room, it was
even missed when gone since it had served as another seat or stool among the
powder- and whisky-kegs and firkins of salt and lard about the stove on
winter nights; and was moved at all for the simple reason that suddenly the
settlement (overnight it would become a town without having been a village;
one day in about a hundred years it would wake frantically from its communal
slumber into a rash of Rotary and Lion Clubs and Chambers of Commerce and
City Beautifuls: a furious beating of hollow drums toward nowhere, but
merely to sound louder than the next little human clotting to its north or
south or east or west, dubbing itself city as Napoleon dubbed himself
emperor and defending the expedient by padding its census rolls-a fever, a
delirium in which it would confound forever seething with motion and motion
with progress. But that was a hundred years away yet; now it was frontier,
the men and women pioneers, tough, simple, and durable, seeking money or
adventure or freedom or simple escape, and not too particular how they did
it.) discovered itself faced not so much with a problem which had to be
solved, as a Damocles sword of dilemma from which it had to save itself;
Even the jailbreak was fortuity: a gang-three or four-of Natchez Trace
bandits (twenty-five years later legend would begin to affirm, and a hundred
years later would still be at it, that two of the bandits were the Harpes
themselves, Big Harpe anyway, since the circumstances, the method of the
breakout left behind like a smell, an odor, a kind of gargantuan and bizarre
playfulness at once humorous and terrifying, as if the settlement had
fallen, blundered, into the notice or range of an idle and whimsical giant.
Which-that they were the Harpes-was impossible, since the Harpes and even
the last of Mason's ruffians were dead or scattered by this time, and the
robbers would have had to belong to John Murrel's organization-if they
needed to belong to any at all other than the simple fraternity of rapine.)
captured by chance by an
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 181
incidental band of civilian more-or-less militia and brought in to the
Jefferson jail because it was the nearest one, the militia band being part
of a general muster at Jefferson two days before for a Fourth-of-July
barbecue, which by the second day had been refined by hardy elimination into
one drunken brawling which rendered even the hardiest survivors vulnerable
enough to be ejected from the settlement by the civilian residents, the band
which was to make the capture having been carried, still comatose, in one of
the evicting wagons to a swamp four miles from Jefferson known as Hurricane
Bottoms, where they made camp to regain their strength or at least their
legs, and where that night the four-or threebandits, on the way across
country to their hideout from their last exploit on the Trace, stumbled onto
the campfire. And here report divided; some said that the sergeant in
command of the militia recognised one of the bandits as a deserter from his
corps, others said that one of the bandits recognised in the sergeant a
former follower of his, the bandit's, trade. Anyway, on the fourth morning
all of them, captors and prisoners, returned to Jefferson in a group, some
said in confederation now seeking more drink, others said that the captors
brought their prizes back to the settlement in revenge for having been
evicted from it. Because these were frontier, pioneer times, when personal
liberty and freedom were almost a physical condition like fire or flood, and
no community was going to interfere with anyone's morals as long as the
amoralist practised somewhere else, and so Jefferson, being neither on the
Trace nor the River but lying about midway between, naturally wanted no part
of the underworld of either;
But they had some of it now, taken as it were by surprise, unawares, without
warning to prepare and fend off. They put the bandits into the
log-and-mudchinking jail, which until now had had no lock at all since its
clients so far had been amateurs-local brawlers and drunkards and runaway
slaves -for whom a single heavy wooden beam in slots across the outside of
the door like on a corncrib, had sufficed. But they had now what might be
four-three Dillingers or Jesse Jameses of the time, with rewards on their
heads. So they locked the jail; they bored an auger hole through the door
and another through the jamb and passed a length of heavy chain through the
holes and sent a messenger on the run across to the postoffice-store to
fetch the ancient Carolina lock from the last Nashville mail-pouch-the iron
monster weighing almost fifteen pounds, with a key almost as long as a
bayonet, not just the only lock in that part of the country, but the oldest
lock in that cranny of the United States, brought there
182 WILLIAM FAULKNER
by one of the three men who were what was to be Yoknapatawpha County's
coeval pioneers and settlers, leaving in it the three oldest names-Alexander
Holston, who came as half groom and half bodyguard to Doctor Samuel
Habersham, and half nurse and half tutor to the doctor's eight-year-old
motherless son, the three of them riding horseback across Tennessee from the
Cumberland Gap along with Louis Grenier, the Huguenot younger son who
brought the first slaves into the country and was granted the first big land
patent and became the first cotton planter; while Doctor Habersham, with his
worn black bag of pills and knives and his brawny taciturn bodyguard and his
half orphan child, became the settlement itself (for a time, before it was
named, the settlement was known as Doctor Habersham's, then Habersham's,
then simply Habersham; a hundred years later, during a schism between two
ladies' clubs over the naming of the streets in order to get free mail
delivery, a movement was started, first, to change the name back to
Habersham; then, failing that, to divide the town in two and call one half
of it Habersham after the old pioneer doctor and founder)-friend of old
Issetibbeha, the Chickasaw chief (the motherless Habersham boy, now a man of
twenty-five, married one of Issetibbeha's grand-daughters and in the
thirties emigrated to Oklahoma with his wife's dispossessed people), first
unofficial, then official Chickasaw agent until he resigned in a letter of
furious denunciation addressed to the President of the United States
himself; and-his charge and pupil a man now-Alexander Holston became the
settlement's first publican, establishing the tavern still known as the
Holston House, the original log walls and puncheon floors and hand-morticed
joints of which are still buried somewhere beneath the modern pressed glass
and brick veneer and neon tubes. The lock was his;
Fifteen pounds of useless iron lugged a thousand miles through a desert of
precipice and swamp, of flood and drouth and wild beasts and wild Indians
and wilder white men, displacing that fifteen pounds better given to food or
seed to plant food or even powder to defend with, to become a fixture, a
kind of landmark, in the bar of a wilderness ordinary, locking and securing
nothing, because there was nothing behind the heavy bars and shutters
needing further locking and securing; not even a paper weight because the
only papers in the Holston House were the twisted spills in an old powder
horn above the mantel for lighting tobacco; always a little in the way,
since it had constantly to be moved: from bar to shelf to mantel back to bar
again until they finally thought about putting it on the bi-monthly
mail-pouch; familiar, known, pres-
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 183
ently the oldest unchanged thing in the settlement, older than the people
since Issetibbeha and Doctor Habersham were dead, and Alexander Holston was
an old man crippled with arthritis, and Louis Grenier had a settlement of
his own on his vast plantation, half of which was not even in Yoknapatawpha
County, and the settlement rarely saw him; older than the town, since there
were new names in it now even when the old blood ran in them-Sartoris and
Stevens, Compson and McCaslin and Sutpen and Coldfield-and you no longer
shot a bear or deer or wild turkey simply by standing for a while in your
kitchen door, not to mention the pouch of mail -letters and even
newspapers-which came from Nashville every two weeks by a special rider who
did nothing else and was paid a salary for it by the Federal Government; and
that was the second phase of the monster Carolina lock's transubstantiation
into the Yoknapatawpha County courthouse;
The pouch didn't always reach the settlement every two weeks, nor even
always every month. But sooner or later it did, and everybody knew it would,
because it-the cowhide saddlebag not even large enough to hold a full change
of clothing, containing three or four letters and half that many
badly-printed one- and two-sheet newspapers already three or four months out
of date and usually half and sometimes wholly misinformed or incorrect to
begin with-was the United States, the power and the will to liberty, owning
liegence to no man, bringing even into that still almost pathless wilderness
the thin peremptory voice of the nation which had wrenched its freedom from
one of the most powerful peoples on earth and then again within the same
lifespan successfully defended it; so peremptory and audible that the man
who carried the pouch on the galloping horse didn't even carry any arms ex-
cept a tin horn, traversing month after month, blatantly, flagrantly, almost
contemptuously, a region where for no more than the boots on his feet, men
would murder a traveller and gut him like a bear or deer or fish and fill
the cavity with rocks and sink the evidence in the nearest water; not even
deigning to pass quietly where other men, even though armed and in parties,
tried to move secretly or at least without uproar, but instead announcing
his solitary advent as far ahead of himself as the ring of the horn would
carry. So it was not long before Alexander Holston's lock had moved to the
mailpouch. Not that the pouch needed one, having come already the three
hundred miles from Nashville without a lock. (It had been projected at first
that the lock remain on the pouch constantly. That is, not just while the
pouch was in the settlement, but while it was on the horse between Nashville
184 WILLIAM FAULKNER
the settlement too. The rider refused, succinctly, in three words, one of
which was printable. His reason was the lock's weight. They pointed out
to him that this would not hold water, since not only-the rider was a
frail irascible little man weighing less than a hundred pounds-would the
fifteen pounds of lock even then fail to bring his weight up to that of
a normal adult male, the added weight of the lock would merely match that
of the pistols which his employer, the United States Government, believed
he carried and even paid him for having done so, the rider's reply to this
being succinct too though not so glib: that the lock weighed fifteen
pounds either at the back door of the store in the settlement, or at that
of the postoffice in Nashville. But since Nashville and the settlement
were three hundred yards apart, by the time the horse had carried it from
one to the other, the lock weighed fifteen pounds to the mile times three
hundred miles, or forty-five hundred pounds. Which was manifest nonsense,
a physical impossibility either in lock or horse. Yet indubitably fifteen
pounds times three hundred miles was forty-five hundred something, either
pounds or mil es-especi ally as while they were still trying to unravel
it, the rider repeated his first three succinct-two unprintable-words.)
So less than ever would the pouch need a lock in the back room of the
trading-post, surrounded and enclosed once more by civilization, where its
very intactness, its presence to receive a lock, proved its lack of that
need during the three hundred miles of rapine-haunted Trace; needing a
lock as little as it was equipped to receive one, since it had been
necessary to slit the leather with a knife just under each jaw of the
opening and insert the lock's iron mandible through the two slits and
clash it home, so that any other hand with a similar knife could have cut
the whole lock from the pouch as easily as it had been clasped onto it.
So the old lock was not even a symbol of security: it was a gesture of
salutation, of free men to free men, of civilization across not just the
three hundred miles of wilderness to Nashville, but the fifteen hundred
to Washington: of respect without servility, allegiance without abasement
to the government which they had helped to found and had accepted with
pride but still as free men, still free to withdraw from it at any moment
when the two of them found themselves no longer compatible, the old lock
meeting the pouch each time on its arrival, to clasp it in iron and
inviolable symbolism, while old Alec Holston, childless bachelor, grew a
little older and grayer, a little more arthritic in flesh and temper too,
a little stiffer and more rigid in bone and pride too, since the lock was
still his, he had merely lent it, and so in a sense he was the grandfather
in the settlement of the inviolability not just of govern-
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 185
ment mail, but of a free government of free men too, so long as the
government remembered to let men live free, not under it but beside it;
That was the lock; they put it on the jail. They did it quickly, not even
waiting until a messenger could have got back from the Holston House with
old Alec's permission to remove it from the mail-pouch or use it for the
new purpose. Not that he would have objected on principle nor refused his
permission except by simple instinct; that is, he would probably have been
the first to suggest the lock if he had known in time or thought of it
first, but he would have refused at once if he thought the thing was
contemplated without consulting him. Which everybody in the settlement
knew, though this was not at all why they didn't wait for the messenger.
In fact, no messenger had ever been sent to old Alec; they didn't have
time to send one, let alone wait until he got back; they didn't want the
lock to keep the bandits in, since (as was later proved) the old lock
would have been no more obstacle for the bandits to pass than the
customary wooden bar; they didn't need the lock to protect the settlement
from the bandits, but to protect the bandits from the settlement. Because
the prisoners had barely reached the settlement when it developed that
there was a faction bent on lynching them at once, out of hand, without
preliminary-a small but determined gang which tried to wrest the prisoners
from their captors while the militia was still trying to find someone to
surrender them to, and would have succeeded except for a man named
Compson, who had come to the settlement a few years ago with a racehorse,
which he swapped to Ikkemoutubbe, Issetibbeha's successor in the
chiefship, for a square mile of what was to be the most valuable land in
the future town of Jefferson, who, legend said, drew a pistol and held the
ravishers at bay until the bandits could be got into the jail and the
auger holes bored and someone sent to fetch old Alec Holston's lock.
Because there were indeed new names and faces too in the settlement
now-faces so new as to have (to the older residents) no discernible
antecedents other than mammalinity, nor past other than the simple years
which had scored them; and names so new as to have no discernible (nor
discoverable either) antecedents or past at all, as though they had been
invented yesterday, report dividing again: to the effect that there were
more people in the settlement that day than the militia sergeant whom one
or all of the bandits might recognise;
So Compson locked the jail, and a courier with the two best horses in the
settlement-one to ride and one to lead-cut
186 WILLIAM FAULKNER
through the woods to the Trace to ride the hundred-odd miles to Natchez with
news of the capture and authority to dicker for the reward; and that evening
in the Holston House kitchen was held the settlement's first municipal
meeting, prototype not only of the town council after the settlement would
be a town, but of the Chamber of Commerce when it would begin to proclaim
itself a city, with Compson presiding, not old Alec, who was quite old now,
grim, taciturn, sitting even on a hot July night before a smoldering log in
his vast chimney, his back even turned to the table (he was not interested
in the deliberation; the prisoners were his already since his lock held
them; whatever the conference decided would have to be submitted to him for
ratification anyway before anyone could touch his lock to open it) around
which the progenitors of the Jefferson city fathers sat in what was almost
a council of war, not only discussing the collecting of the reward, but the
keeping and defending it. Because there were two factions of opposition now:
not only the lynching party, but the militia band too, who claimed that as
prizes the prisoners still belonged to their original captors; that they-the
militia-had merely surrendered the prisoners' custody but had relinquished
nothing of any reward: on the prospect of which, the militia band had got
more whiskey from the trading-post store and had built a tremendous bonfire
in front of the jail, around which they and the lynching party had now
confederated in a wassail or conference of their own. Or so they thought.
Because the truth was that Compson, in the name of a crisis in the public
peace and welfare, had made a formal demand on the professional bag of
Doctor Peabody, old Doctor Habersham's successor, and the three of
them-Compson, Peabody, and the post trader (his name was Ratcliffe; a
hundred years later it would still exist in the county, but by that time it
had passed through two inheritors who had dispensed with the eye in the
transmission of words, using only the ear, so that by the time the fourth
one had been compelled by simple necessity to learn to write it again, it
had lost the V and the final 'fe' too) added the laudanurn to the keg of
whiskey and sent it as a gift from the settlement to the astonished militia
sergeant, and returned to the Holston House kitchen to wait until the last
of the uproar died; then the law-and-order party made a rapid sortie and
gathered up all the comatose opposition, lynchers and captors too, and
dumped them all into the jail with the prisoners and locked the door again
and went home to bed-until the next morning, when the first arrivals were
met by a scene resembling an outdoor stage setting: which was how the legend
of the mad Harpes started: a thing not just fantastical but
incomprehensible, not just whimsical but a
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 187
little terrifying (though at least it was bloodless, which would have
contented neither Harne) : not just the lock gone from the door nor even
just the door gone from the jail, but the entire wall gone, the
mud-chinked axe-morticed logs unjointed neatly and quietly in the darkness
and stacked as neatly to one side, leaving the jail open to the world like
a stage on which the late insurgents still lay sprawled and various in
deathlike slumber, the whole settlement gathered now to watch Compson
trying to kick at least one of them awake, until one of the Holston
slaves-the cook's husband, the waiter-groom
hostler-ran into the crowd shouting, 'Whar de lock, whar de lock, ole Boss
say whar de lock.'
It was gone (as were three horses belonging to three of the lynching
faction). They couldn't even find the heavy door and the chain, and at
first they were almost betrayed into believing that the bandits had had
to take the door in order to steal the chain and lock, catching themselves
back from the very brink of this wanton accusation of rationality. But the
lock was gone; nor did it take the settlement long to realize that it was
not the escaped bandits and the aborted reward, but the lock, and not a
simple situation which faced them, but a problem which threatened, the
slave departing back to the Holston House at a dead run and then
reappearing at the dead run almost before the door, the walls, had had
time to hide him, engulf and then eject him again, darting through the
crowd and up to Compson himself now, saying, "Ole Boss say fetch de
lock"-not send the lock, but bring the lock, So Compson and his
lieutenants (and this was where the mail rider began to appear, or rather,
to emerge-the fragile wisp of a man ageless, hairless and toothless, who
looked too frail even to approach a horse, let alone ride one six hundred
miles every two weeks, yet who did so, and not only that but had wind
enough left not only to an -nounce and precede but even follow his passing
with the jeering musical triumph of the horn:-a contempt for
possible-probable-despoilers matched only by that for the official dross
of which he might be despoiled, and which agreed to remain in civilized
bounds only so long as the despoilers had the taste to refrain) -repaired
to the kitchen where old Alec still sat before his smoldering log, his
back still to the room, and still not turning it this time either. And
that was all. He ordered the immediate return of his lock. It was not even
an ultimatum, it was a simple instruction, a decree, impersonal, the mail
rider now well into the fringe of the group, saying nothing and missing
nothing, like a weightless desiccated or fossil bird, not a vulture of
course nor even quite a hawk, but say a pterodactyl chick arrested just
out of the egg ten glaciers ago and so old in
188 WILLIAM FAULKNER
simple infancy as to be the worn and weary ancestor of all subsequent life.
They pointed out to old Alec that the only reason the lock could be missing
was that the bandits had not had time or been able to cut it out of the
door, and that even three fleeing madmen on stolen horses would not carry a
six-foot oak door very far, and that a party of Ikkernotubbe's young men
were even now trailing the horses westward toward the River and that without
doubt the lock would be found at any moment, probably under the first bush
at the edge of the settlement: knowing better, knowing that there was no
limit to the fantastic and the terrifying and the bizarre, of which the men
were capable who already, just to escape from a log jail, had quietly
removed one entire wall and stacked it in neat piecemeal at the roadside,
and that they nor old Alec neither would ever see his lock again;
Nor did they; the rest of that afternoon and all the next day too, while old
Alec still smoked his pipe in front of his smoldering log, the settlement's
sheepish and raging elders hunted for it, with (by now: the next afternoon)
Ikkemotubbe's Chickasaws helping too, or anyway present, watching: the wild
men, the wilderness's tameless evictant children loooking only the more wild
and homeless for the white man's denim and butternut and felt and straw
which they wore, standing or squatting or following, grave, attentive and
interested, while the white men sweated and cursed among the bordering
thickets of their punily-clawed foothold; and always the rider, Pettigrew,
ubiquitous, everywhere, not helping search himself and never in anyone's
way, but always present, inscrutable, saturnine, missing nothing: until at
last toward sundown Compson crashed savagely out of the last bramble-brake
and flung the sweat from his face with a full-armed sweep sufficient to
repudiate a throne, and said.
'All right, god damn it, we'll pay him for it.' Because they had already
considered that last gambit; they had already realized its seriousness from
the very fact that Peabody had tried to make a joke about it which everyone
knew that even Peabody did not think humorous:
'Yes-and quick too, before he has time to advise with Pettigrew and price
it by the pound.'
'By the pound?' Compson said.
'Pettigrew just weighed it by the three hundred miles from Nashville. Old
Alec might start from Carolina. That's fifteen thousand pounds.'
'Oh,' Compson said. So he blew in his men by means of a foxhom which one of
the Indians wore on a thong around his
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 189
neck, though even then they paused for one last quick conference; again it
was Peabody who stopped them.
'Who'll pay for it?' he said. 'It would be just like him to want a dollar
a pound for it, even if by Pettigrew's scale he had found it in the ashes
of his fireplace.' They-Compson anyway -had probably already thought of
that; that, as much as Pettigrew's presence, was probably why be was trying
to rush them into old Alec's presence with the offer so quickly that none
would have the face to renege on a pro-rata share. But Peabody had torn it
now. Compson looked about at them, sweating, grimly enraged.
'That means Peabody will probably pay one dollar,' be said. 'Who pays the
other fourteen? Me?' Then Ratcliffe, the trader, the store's proprietor,
solved it-a solution so simple, so limitless in retroact, that they didn't
even wonder why nobody had thought of it before; which not only solved the
problem but abolished it; and not just that one, but all problems, from now
on into perpetuity, opening to their vision like the rending of a veil,
like a glorious prophecy, the vast splendid limitless panorama of America:
that land of boundless opportunity, that bourne, created not by nor of the
people, but for the people, as was the heavenly manna of old, with no
return demand on man save the chewing and swallowing since out of its own
matchless Allgood it would create produce train support and perpetuate a
race of laborers dedicated to the single purpose of picking the manna up
and putting it into his lax hand or even between his jaws-illimitable,
vast, without beginning or end, not even a trade or a craft but a
beneficence as are sunlight and rain and air, inalienable and immutable.
'Put it on the Book,' Ratcliffe said-the Book: not a ledger, but the
ledger, since it was probably the only thing of its kind between Nashville
and Natchez, unless there might happen to be a similar one a few miles
south at the first Choctaw agency at Yalo Busha-a ruled, paper-backed
copybook such as might have come out of a schoolroom, in which accrued,
with the United States as debtor, in Mohataha's name (the Chickasaw
matriarch, Ikkemotubbe's mother and old Issetibbeha's sister, who-she could
write her name, or anyway make something with a pen or pencil which was
agreed to be, or at least accepted to be, a valid signature-signed all the
conveyances as her son's kingdom passed to the white people, regularising
it in law anyway) the crawling tedious list of calico and gunpowder,
whiskey and salt and snuff and denim pants and osseous candy drawn from
Ratcliffe's shelves by her descendants and subjects and Negro slaves. That
was all the settlement had to do: add the lock to the list, the account. It
wouldn't even matter at what price they entered it. They could have priced
190 WILLIAM FAULKNER
it on Pettigrew's scale of fifteen pounds times the distance not just to
Carolina but to Washington itself, and nobody would ever notice it probably;
they could have charged the United States with seventeen thousand five
hundred dollars' worth of the fossilised and indestructible candy, and none
would ever read the entry. So it was solved, done, finished, ended. They
didn't even have to discuss it. They didn't even think about it any more,
unless perhaps here and there to marvel (a little speculatively probably) at
their own moderation, since they wanted nothing-least of all, to escape any
just blame-but a fair and decent adjustment of the lock. They went back to
where old Alec still sat with his pipe in front of his dim hearth. Only they
had overestimated him; he didn't want any money at all, he wanted his lock.
Whereupon what little remained of Compson's patience went too.
'Your lock's gone,' he told old Alec harshly. 'You'll take fifteen dollars
for it,' he said, his voice already fading, because even that rage could
recognize impasse when it saw it. Nevertheless, the rage, the impotence,
the sweating, the too muchwhatever it was-forced the voice on for one word
more: 'Or -'before it stopped for good and allowed Peabody to fill the gap:
'Or elseT Peabody said, and not to old Alec, but to Compson. 'Or else whatT
Then Ratcliffe saved that too.
'Wait,' he said. 'Uncle Alec's going to take fifty dollars for his lock. A
guarantee of fifty dollars. He'll give us the name of the blacksmith back
in Cal'lina that made it for him, and we'll send back there and have a new
one made. Going and coming and all'll cost about fifty dollars. We'll give
Uncle Alec the fifty dollars to hold as a guarantee. Then when the new lock
comes, he'll give us back the money. All right, Uncle AlecT And that could
have been all of it. It probably would have been, except for Pettigrew. It
was not that they had forgotten him, nor even assimilated him. They had
simply sealed -healed him off (so they thought)-him into their civic crisis
as the desperate and defenseless oyster immobilizes its atom of inevictable
grit. Nobody had seen him move yet he now stood in the center of them where
Compson and Ratcliffe and Peabody faced old Alec in the chair. You might
have said that he had oozed there, except for that adamantine quality which
might (in emergency) become invisible but never insubstantial and never in
this world fluid; he spoke in a voice bland, reasonable and impersonal,
then stood there being looked at, frail and child-sized, impermeable as
diamond and manifest with portent, bringing into that backwoods room a
thousand miles deep in pathless wilderness, the whole vast incalculable
weight of federality, not just representing the government nor
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 191
even himself just the government; for that moment at least, he was the
'Uncle Alec hasn't lost any lock,' he said. 'That was Uncle Sam.'
After a moment someone said, 'WhatT
'That's right,' Pettigrew said. 'Whoever put that lock of Holston's on that
mail bag either made a voluntary gift to the United States, and the same
law covers the United States Government that covers minor children: you can
give something to them, but you can't take it back, or he or they done
They looked at him. Again after a while somebody said something; it was
Ratcliffe. 'What elseT Ratcliffe said. Pettigrew answered, still bland,
impersonal, heatless and glib: 'Committed a violation of act of Congress as
especially made and provided for the defacement of government property,
penalty of five thousand dollars or not less than one year in a Federal
jail or both. For whoever cut them two slits in the bag to put the lock in,
act of Congress as especially made and provided for the injury or
destruction of government property, penalty of ten thousand dollars or not
less than five years in a Federal jail or both.' He did not move even yet;
he simply spoke directly to old Alec: 'I reckon you're going to have supper
here same as usual sooner or later or more or less.'
'Wait,' Ratcliffe said. He turned to Compson. 'Is that true?'
'What the hell difference does it make whether it's true or not?' Compson
said. 'What do you think he's going to do as soon as he gets to Nashville?'
He said violently to Pettigrew: 'You were supposed to leave for Nashville
yesterday. What were you hanging around here forT
'Nothing to go to Nashville for,' Pettigrew said. 'You dont want any mail.
You aint got anything to lock it up with.'
'So we aint,' Ratcliffe said. "So we'll let the United States find the
United States' lock.' This time Pettigrew looked at no one. He wasn't even
speaking to anyone, any more than old Alec had been when he decreed the
return of his lock:
'Act of Congress as made and provided for the unauthorized removal and or
use or willful or felonious use or misuse or loss of government property,
penalty the value of the article plus five hundred to ten thousand dollars
or thirty days to twenty years in a Federal jail or both. They may even
make a new one when they read where you have charged a postoffice
department lock to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.' He moved; now he was
speaking to old Alec again: 'I'm going out to my horse. When this meeting
is over and you get back to cooking, you can send your nigger for me.'
Then he was gone. After a while Ratcliffe said, 'What do
192 WILLIAM FAULKNER
you reckon he aims to get out of this? A rewardT But that was wrong; they
all knew better than that.
'He's already getting what he wants,' Compson said, and cursed again.
'Confusion. Just damned confusion.' But that was wrong too; they all knew
that too, though it was Peabody who said it:
'No. Not confusion. A man who will ride six hundred miles through this
country every two weeks, with nothing for protection but a foxhorn, aint
really interested in confusion any more than he is in money.' So they
didn't know yet what was in Pettigrew's mind. But they knew what he would
do. That is, they knew that they did not know at all, either what he
would do, or how, or when, and that there was nothing whatever that they
could do about it until they discovered why. And they saw now that they
had no possible means to discover that; they realized now that they had
known him for three years now, during which, fragile and inviolable and
undeviable and preceded for a mile or more by the strong sweet ringing
of the horn, on his strong and tireless horse he would complete the
bi-monthly trip from Nashville to the settlement and for the next three
or four days would live among them, yet that they knew nothing whatever
about him, and even now knew only that they dared not, simply dared not,
take any chance, sitting for a while longer in the darkening room while
old Alec still smoked, his back still squarely turned to them and their
quandary too; then dispersing to their own cabins for the evening
meal-with what appetite they could bring to it, since presently they had
drifted back through the summer darkness when by ordinary they would have
been already in bed, to the back room of Ratcliff e's store now, to sit
again while Ratcliffe recapitulated in his mixture of bewilderment and
alarm (and something else which they recognized was respect as they
realized that he-Ratcliffe-was unshakably convinced that Pettigrew's aim
was money; that Pettigrew had invented or evolved a scheme so richly
rewarding that he-Ratcliffehad not only been unable to forestall him and
do it first, he -Ratcliffe--couldn't even guess what it was after he had
been given a hint) until Compson interrupted him.
'Hell,' Compson said. 'Everybody knows what's wrong with him. It's
ethics. He's a damned moralist.'
'EthicsT Peabody said. He sounded almost startled. He said quickly:
'That's bad. How can we corrupt an ethical manT
'Who wants to corrupt himT Compson said. 'All we want him to do is stay
on that damned horse and blow whatever extra wind he's got into the
But Peabody was not even listening. He said, 'Ethics,' almost dreamily.
He said, 'Wait.' They watched him. He said suddenly
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 193
to Ratcliffe: 'I've heard it somewhere. If anybody here knows it, it'll
be you. What's his nameT
'His name?' Ratcliffe said. 'Pettigrew's? Oh. His christian name.'
Ratcliffe told him. 'Why?'
'Nothing,' Peabody said. 'I'm going home. Anybody else coming?' He spoke
directly to nobody and said and would say no more, but that was enough:
a straw perhaps, but at least a straw; enough anyway for the others to
watch and say nothing either as Compson got up to and said to Ratcliffe:
'You coming?' and the three of them walked away together, beyond earshot
then beyond sight too. Then Compson said, 'All right. WhatT
'It may not work,' Peabody said. 'But you two will have to back me up.
When I speak for the whole settlement, you and Ratcliffe will have to
make it stick. Will youT
Compson cursed. 'But at least tell us a little of what we're going to
guarantee.' So Peabody told them, some of it, and the next morning
entered the stall in the Holston House stable where Pettigrew was
grooming his ugly hammer-headed ironmuscled horse.
'We decided not to charge that lock to old Mohataha, after all,' Peabody
'That soT Pettigrew said. 'Nobody in Washington would ever catch it.
Certainly not the ones that can read.'
'We're going to pay for it ourselves,' Peabody said. 'In fact, we're
going to do a little more. We've got to repair that jail wall anyhow;
we've got to build one wall anyway. So by building three more, we will
have another room. We got to build one anyway, so that dont count. So by
building an extra threewall room, we will have another four-wall house.
That will be the courthouse.' Pettigrew had been hissing gently between
his teeth at each stroke of the brush, like a professional Irish groom.
Now he stopped, the brush and his hand arrested in midstroke, and turned
his head a little.
'We're going to have a town,' Peabody said. 'We already got a
church-that's Whitfield's cabin. And we're going to build a school too
soon as we get around to it. But we're going to build the courthouse
today; we've already got something to put in it to make it a courthouse:
that iron box that's been in Ratcliffe's way in the store for the last
ten years. Then we'll have a town. We've already even named her.'
Now Pettigrew stood up, very slowly. They looked at one another. After
a moment Pettigrew said, 'So?'
'Ratcliffe says your name's Jefferson,' Peabody said.
'That's right,' Pettigrew said. 'Thomas Jefferson Pettigrew. I'm from old
194 WILLIAM FAULKNER
'Any kinT Peabody said.
No,' Pettigrew said. 'My ma named me for him, so I would have some of his
'Luck?' Peabody said.
Pettigrew didn't smile. 'That's right. She didn't mean luck. She never had
any schooling. She didn't know the word she wanted to say.'
'Have you had it?' Peabody said. Nor did Pettigrew smile now. 'I'm sorry,'
Peabody said. 'Try to forget it.' He said: 'We decided to name her
Jefferson.' Now Pettigrew didn't seem to breathe even. He just stood there,
small, frail, less than boysize, childless and bachelor, incorrigibly
kinless and tieless, looking at Peabody. Then he breathed, and raising the
brush, he turned back to the horse and for an instant Peabody thought he
was going back to the grooming. But instead of making the stroke, he laid
the hand and the brush against the horse's flank and stood for a moment,
his face turned away and his head bent a little. Then he raised his head
and turned his face back toward Peabody.
'You could call that lock 'axle grease' on that Indian account,' he said.
'Fifty dollars' worth of axle grease?' Peabody said.
'To grease the wagons for Oklahoma,' Pettigrew said.
'So we could,' Peabody said. 'Only her name's Jefferson now. We cant ever
forget that any more now.' And that was the courthOUse-the courthouse which
it had taken them almost thirty years not only to realize they didn't have,
but to discover that they hadn't even needed, missed, lacked; and which,
before they had owned it six months, they discovered was nowhere near
enough. Because somewhere between the dark of that first day and the dawn
of the next, something happened to them. They began that same day; they
restored the jail wall and cut new logs and split out shakes and raised the
little floorless lean-to against it and moved the iron cbest from
Ratcliffe's back room; it took only the two days and cost nothing but the
labor and not much of that per capita since the whole settlement was
involved to a man, not to mention the settlement's two slaves-Holston's man
and the one belonging to the German blacksmith-; Ratcliffe too, all he had
to do was put up the bar across the inside of his back door, since his
entire patronage was countable in one glance sweating and cursing among the
logs and shakes of the half dismantled jail across the way
opposite-including Ikkemotubbe's Chickasaw, though these were neither
sweating nor cursing: the grave dark men dressed in their Sunday clothes
except for the trousers, pants, which they carried rolled neatly under
their arms or perhaps tied by the two legs around their necks like capes
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 195
or rather hussars' dolmans where they had forded the creek, squatting or
lounging along the shade, courteous, interested, and reposed (even old
Mohataha herself, the matriarch, barefoot in a purple silk gown and a plumed
hat, sitting in a gilt brocade empire chair in a wagon behind two mules,
under a silver-handled Paris parasol held by a female slave child)- because
they (the other white men, his confreres, or-during this first day-his
co-victims) had not yet remarked the thing -quality-something-esoteric,
eccentric, in Ratcliffe's manner, attitude,-not an obstruction nor even an
impediment, not even when on the second day they discovered what it was, be-
cause he was among them, busy too, sweating and cursing too, but rather like
a single chip, infinitesimal, on an otherwise unbroken flood or tide, a
single body or substance, alien and unreconciled, a single thin almost
unheard voice crying thinly out of the roar of a mob: 'Wait, look here,
Because they were too busy raging and sweating among the dismantled logs and
felling the new ones in the adjacent woods and trimming and notching and
dragging them out and mixing the tenuous clay mud to chink them together
with; it was not until the second day that they learned what was troubling
Ratcliffe, because now they had time, the work going no slower, no lessening
of sweat but on the contrary, if anything the work going even a little
faster because now there was a lightness in the speed and all that was
abated was the rage and the outrage, because somewhere between the dark and
the dawn of the first and the second day, something had happened to them-the
men who had spent that first long hot endless July day sweating and raging
about the wrecked jail, flinging indiscriminately and savagely aside the
dismantled logs and the log-like laudanum-smitten inmates in order to
rebuild the one, cursing old Holston and the lock and the four-three
-bandits. and the eleven militiamen who had arrested them, and Compson and
Pettigrew and Peabody and the United States of America-the same men met at
the project before sunrise on the next day which was already promising to be
hot and endless too, but with the rage and the fury absent now, quiet, not
grave so much as sobered, a little amazed, diffident, blinking a little
perhaps, looking a little aside from one another, a little unfamiliar even
to one another in the new jonquil-colored light, looking about them at the
meagre huddle of crude cabins set without order and every one a little awry
to every other and all dwarfed to doll-houses by the vast loom of the woods
which enclosed them-the tiny clearing clawed punily not even into the flank
of pathless wilderness but into the Join, the groin, the secret parts, which
was the irrevocable cast
196 WILLIAM FAULKNER
die of their lives, fates, pasts and futures-not even speaking for a while
yet since each one probably believed (a little shamefaced too) that the
thought was solitarily his, until at last one spoke for all and then it was
all right since it had taken one conjoined breath to shape that sound, the
speaker speaking not loud, diffidently, tentatively, so you insert the first
light tentative push of wind into the mouthpiece of a strange untried
foxhorn: 'By God. Jefferson.'
'Jefferson, Mississippi,' a second added.
'Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi,' a third coriected; who,
which one, didn't matter this time either since it was still one conjoined
breathing, one compound dream-state, mused and static, well capable of
lasting on past sunrise too, though they probably knew better too since
Compson was still there: the gnat, the thorn, the catalyst.
'It aint until we finish the goddamned thing,' Compson said. 'Come on.
Let's get at it.' So they finished it that day, working rapidly now, with
speed and lightness too, concentrated yet inattentive, to get it done and
that quickly, not to finish it but to get it out of the way, behind them;
not to finish it quickly in order to own, possess it sooner, but to be able
to obliterate, efface it the sooner, as if they had also known in that
first yellow light that it would not be near enough, would not even be the
beginning; that the little lean-to room they were building would not even
be a pattern and could not even be called practice, working on until noon,
the hour to stop and eat, by which time Louis Grenier had arrived from
Frenchman's Bend (his plantation: his manor, his kitchens and stables and
kennels and slave quarters and gardens and promenades and fields which a
hundred years later will have vanished, his name and his blood too, leaving
nothing but the name of his plantation and his own fading corrupted legend
like a thin layer of the native ephemeral yet inevictable dust on a section
of country surrounding a little lost paintless crossroads store) twenty
miles away behind a slave coachman and footman in his imported English
carriage and what was said to be the finest matched team outside of Natchez
or Nashville, and Compson said, 'I reckon that'll do'-all knowing what he
meant: not abandonment: to complete it, of course, but so little remained
now that the two slaves could finish it. The four in fact, since, although
as soon as it was assumed that the two Grenier Negroes would lend the two
local ones a hand, Compson demurred on the grounds that who would dare
violate the rigid protocol of bondage by ordering a stableservant, let
alone a house servant, to do manual labor, not to mention having the
temerity to approach old Louis Grenier with the suggestion, Peabody nipped
that at once.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 197
'One of them can use my shadow,' he said. 'It never blenched out there with
a white doctor standing in it,' and even offered to be emissary to old
Grenier, except that Grenier himself forestalled them. So they ate
Holston's noon ordinary, while the Chickasaws, squatting unmoving still
where the creep of shade had left them in the full fierce glare of July
noon about the wagon where old Mohataha still sat under her slave-borne
Paris parasol, ate their lunches too which (Mohataha's and her personal
retinue's came out of a woven whiteoak withe fishbasket in the wagonbed),
they appeared to have carried in from what, patterning the white people,
they called their plantation too, under their arms inside the rolled-up
trousers. Then they moved back to the front gallery and-not the settlement
any more now: the town; it had been a town for thirty-one hours now-watched
the four slaves put up the final log and pin down the final shake on the
roof and hang the door, and then, Ratcliffe leading something like the
court chamberlain across a castle courtyard, cross back to the store and
enter and emerge carrying the iron chest, the grave Chickasaws watching too
the white man's slaves sweating the white man's ponderable dense
inscrutable medicine into its new shrine. And now they had time to find out
what was bothering Ratcliffe.
'That lock,' Ratcliffe said.
'WhatT somebody said.
'That Indian axle-grease,' Ratcliffe said.
'WhatT they said again. But they knew, understood, now. It was neither lock
nor axle-grease; it was the fifteen dollars which could have been charged
to the Indian Department on Ratcliffe's books and nobody would have ever
found it, noticed it, missed it. It was not greed on Ratcliffe's part, and
least of all was he advocating corruption. The idea was not even new to
him; it did not need any casual man on a horse riding in to the settlement
once every two or three weeks, to reveal to him that possibility; he had
thought of that the first time he had charged the first sack of peppermint
candy to the first one of old Mohataha's forty-year-old grandchildren and
had refrained from adding two zeroes to the ten or fifteen cents for ten
years now, wondering each time why he did refrain, amazed at his own virtue
or at least his strength of will. It was a matter of principle. It was
he-they: the settlement (town now)-who had thought of charging the lock to
the United States as a provable lock, a communal risk, a concrete
ineradicable object, win lose or draw, let the chips fall where they may,
on that dim day when some Federal inspector might, just barely might, audit
the Chickasaw affairs; it was the United States itself which had
voluntarily offered to show
198 WILLIAM FAULKNER -
them how to transmute the inevictable lock into proofless and ephemeral
axle grease-the little scrawny childsized man, solitary unarmed
impregnable and unalarmed, not even defying them, not even advocate and
representative of the United States, but the United States, as though the
United States had said, 'Please accept a gift of fifteen dollars,' (the
town had actually paid old Alec fifteen dollars for the lock; he would
accept no more) and they had not even declined it but simply abolished it
since, as soon as Pettigrew breathed it into sound, the United States had
already forever lost it; as though Pettigrew had put the actual ponderable
fifteen gold coins intosay, Compson's or Peabody's-hands and they had
dropped them down a rathole or a well, doing no man any good, neither
restoration to the ravaged nor emolument to the ravager, leaving in fact
the whole race of man, as long as it endured, forever and irrevocably
fifteen dollars deficit, fifteen dollars in the red;
That was Ratcliffe's trouble. But they didn't even listen. They heard him
out of course, but they didn't even listen. Or perhaps they didn't even
hear him either, sitting along the shade on Holston's gallery, looking,
seeing, already a year away; it was barely the tenth of July; there was
the long summer, the bright soft dry fall until the November rains, but
they would require not two days this time but two years and maybe more,
with a winter of planning and preparation before hand. They even had an
instrument available and waiting, like providence almost: a man named
Sutpen who had come into the settlement that same spring-a big gaunt
friendless passion-worn untalkative man who walked in a fading aura of
anonymity and violence like a man just entered a warm room or at least a
shelter, out of a blizzard, bringing with him thirty-odd slaves cven
wilder and more equivocal than the native wild men, the Chickasaws, to
whom the settlement had become accustomed, who (the new Negroes) spoke no
English but instead what Compson, who had visited New Orleans, said was
the CaribSpanish-French of the Sugar Islands, and who (Sutpen) had bought
or proved on or anyway acquired a tract of land in the opposite direction
and was apparently bent on establishing a place on an even more ambitious
and grandiose scale than Grenier's; he had even brought with him a tame
Parisian architect--or captive rather, since it was said in Ratcliffe's
back room that the man slept at night in a kind of pit at the site of the
chateau he was planning, tied wrist to wrist with one of his captor's
Carib slaves; indeed, the settlement had only to see him once to know that
he was no dociler than his captor, any more than the weasel or rattlesnake
is no less un-
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 199
tame than the wolf or bear before which it gives way until completely and
hopelessly cornered:-a man no larger than Pettigrew, with humorous
sardonic undefeated eyes which had seen everything and believed none of
it, in the broad expensive hat and brocaded waistcoat and ruffled wrists
of a half-artist half-boulevardier; and they-Compson perhaps, Peabody cer-
tainly-could imagine him in his mudstained brier-slashed brocade and lace
standing in a trackless wilderness dreaming colonnades and porticoes and
fountains and promenades in the style of David, with just behind each
elbow an identical giant half-naked Negro not even watching him, only
breathing, moving each time he took a step or shifted like his shadow
repeated in two and blown to gigantic size;
So they even had an architect. He listened to them for perhaps a minute
in Ratcliffe's back room. Then he made an indescribable gesture and said,
'Bah. You do not need advice. You are too poor. You have only your hands,
and clay to make good brick. You dont have any money. You dont even have
anything to copy: how can you go wrong?' But he taught them how to mold
the brick; he designed and built the kiln to bake the brick in, plenty of
them since they had probably known from that first yellow morning too that
one edifice was not going to be enough. But although both were conceived
in the same instant and planned simultaneously during the same winter and
built in continuation during the next three years, the courthouse of
course came first, and in March, with stakes and hanks of fishline, the
architect laid out in a grove of oaks opposite the tavern and the store,
the square and simple foundations, the irrevocable design not only of the
courthouse but of the town too, telling them as much: 'In fifty years you
will be trying to change it iq the name of what you will call progress.
But you will fail; but you will never be able to get away from it.' But
they had already seen that, standing thigh-deep in wilderness also but
with more than a vision to look at since they had at least the fishline
and the stakes, perhaps less than fifty years, perhaps-who knew?-less than
twenty-five even: a Square, the courthouse in its grove the center;
quadrangular around it, the stores, two-storey, the offices of the lawyers
and doctors and dentists, the lodgerooms and auditoriums, above them;
school and church and tavern and bank and jail each in its ordered place;
the four broad diverging avenues straight as plumb-lines in the four
directions, becoming the network of roads and by-roads until the whole
county would be covered with it: the hands, the prehensile fingers clawing
dragging lightward out of the disappearing wilderness year by year as up
from the bottom of
200 WILLIAM FAULKNER
the receding sea, the broad rich fecund burgeoning fields, pushing
thrusting each year further and further back the wilderness and its
denizens-the wild bear and deer and turkey, and the wild men (or not so
wild any more, familiar now, harmless now, just obsolete: anachronism out
of an old dead time and a dead age; regrettable of course, even actually
regretted by the old men, fiercely as old Doctor Habersharn did, and with
less fire but still as irreconcilable and stubborn as old Alec Holston and
a few others were still doing, until in a few more years the last of them
would have passed and vanished in their turn too, obsolescent too: because
this was a white man's land; that was its fate, or not even fate but
destiny, its high destiny in the roster of the earth)-the veins, arteries,
life- and pulse-stream along which would flow the aggrandisement of
harvest: the gold: the cotton and the grain;
But above all, the courthouse: the center, the focus, the hub; sitting
looming in the center of the county's circumference like a single cloud
in its ring of horizon, laying its vast shadow to the uttermost rim of
horizon; musing, brooding, symbolic and ponderable, tall as cloud, solid
as rock, dominating all: protector of the weak, judiciate and curb of the
passions and lusts, repository and guardian of the aspirations and the
hopes; rising course by brick course during that first summer, simply
square, simplest Georgian colonial (this, by the Paris architect who was
creating at Sutpen's Hundred something like a wing of Versailles glimpsed
in a Lilliput's gothic nightmare-in revenge, Gavin Stevens would say a
hundred years later, when Sutpen's own legend in the county would include
the anecdote of the time the architect broke somehow out of his dungeon
and tried to flee and Sutpen and his Negro head man and hunter ran him
down with dogs in the swamp and brought him back) since, as the architect
had told them, they had no money to buy bad taste with nor even anything
from which to copy what bad taste might still have been within their com-
pass; this one too still costing nothing but the labor and-the second year
now-most of that was slave since there were still more slave owners in the
settlement which had been a town and named for going on two years now,
already a town and already named when the first ones walked up on that
yellow morning two years back:-men other than Holston and the blacksmith
(Compson was one now) who owned one or two or three Negroes, besides
Grenier and Sutpen who had set up camps beside the creek in Compson's
pasture for the two gangs of their Negroes to live in until the two
buildingsthe courthouse and the jail-should be completed. But not al-
together slave, the boundmen, the unfree, because there were
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 201
still the white men too, the same ones who on that hot July morning two
and now three years ago had gathered in a kind of outraged unbelief to
Ring, hurl up in raging sweating impotent fury the little three-walled
lean-to--the same men (with affairs of their own they might have been
attending to or work of their own or for which they were being hired,
paid, that they should have been doing) standing or lounging about the
scaffolding and the stacks of bricks and puddles of clay mortar for an
hour or two hours or half a day, then putting aside one of the Negroes and
taking his place with trowel or saw or adze, unbidden or unreproved either
since there was none present with the right to order or deny; a stranger
might have said probably for that reason, simply because now they didn't
have to, except that it was more than that, working peacefully now that
there was no outrage and fury, and twice as fast because there was no
urgency since this was no more to be hurried by man or men than the
burgeoning of a crop, working (this paradox too to anyone except men like
Grenier and Compson and Peabody who had grown from infancy among slaves,
breathed the same air and even suckled the same breast with the sons of
Ham: black and white, free and unfree, shoulder to shoulder in the same
tireless lift and rhythm as if they had the same aim and hope, which they
did have as far as the Negro was capable, as even Ratcliffe, son of a long
pure line of Anglo-Saxon mountain people and-destinedfather of an equally
long and pure line of white trash tenant farmers who never owned a slave
and never would since each had and would imbibe with his mother's milk a
personal violent antipathy not at all to slavery but to black skins, could
have explained: the slave's simple child's mind had fired at once with the
thought that he was helping to build not only the biggest edifice in the
country, but probably the biggest he had ever seen; this was all but this
was enough) as one because it was theirs, bigger than any because it was
the sum of all and, being the sum of all, it must raise all of their hopes
and aspirations level with its own aspirant and soaring cupola, so that,
sweating and tireless and unflagging, they would look about at one another
a little shyly, a little amazed, with something like humility too, as if
they were realizing, or were for a moment at least capable of believing,
that men, all men, including themselves, were a little better, purer maybe
even, than they had thought, expected, or even needed to be. Though they
were still having a little trouble -with Ratcliffe: the money, the Holston
lock-Chickasaw axle grease fifteen dollars; not trouble really because it
had never been an obstruction even three years ago when it was new, and
now after three years even the light impedeless chip was worn by
202 WILLIAM FAULKNER
ustom to less than a toothpick: merely present, merely visible, ,~r that is,
~iudible: and no trouble with Ratcliffe because he made one too contraposed
the toothpick; more: he was its , hief victim, sufferer, since m here with
the others was mostly inattention, a little humor, now and then a little
fading annoyance and impatience, with him was shame, bafflement, a little
anguish and despair like a man struggling with a congenital vice, hopeless,
indomitable, already defeated. It was not even the money any more now, the
fifteen dollars. It was the fact that they had refused it and, refusing it,
had maybe committed a fatal and irremediable error. He would try to explain
it: 'It's like Old Moster and the rest of them up there that run the luck,
would look down at us and say, Well well, looks like them durn peckerwoods
down there dont want them fifteen dollars we was going to give them
free-gratis-for-nothing. So maybe they dont want nothing from us. So maybe
we better do like they seem to want, and let them sweat and swivet and
scrabble through the best they can by themselves.'
'A%ich they-the town-did, though even then the courtliouse was not finished
for another six years. Not but that they thought it was: complete: simple
and square, floored and roofed and windowed, with a central hallway and the
four offices sheriff and tax assessor and circuit- and chanceryclerk
(which-the chancery-clerk's office-would contain the ballot boxes and booths
for voting,-below, and the courtroom and jury-room and the judge's chambers
above ven to the pigeons and English sparrows, migrants too but not
pioneers, inevictably urban in fact, come all the way from the Atlantic
coast as soon as the town became a town with a name, taking possession of
the gutters and eave-boxes almost before the final hammer was withdrawn,
uxorious and interminable the one, garrulous and myriad the other. Then in
the sixth year old Alec Holston died and bequeathed back to the town the
fifteen dollars it had paid him for the lock; two years before, Louis
Grenier had died and his heirs still held in trust on demand the fifteen
hundred dollars his will had devised it, and now there was another newcomer
in the county, a man named John Sartoris, with slaves and gear and money too
like Grenier and Sutpen, but who was an even better stalemate to Sutpen than
Grenier had been because it was apparent at once that he, Sartoris, was the
sort of man who could even cope with Sutpen in the sense that a man with a
sabre or even a small sword and heart enough for it could cope with one with
an axe; and that summer (Sutpen's Paris architect had long since gone back
to whatever place he came from and to which he had made his one abortive
midnight try to return,
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 203
but his trickle, flow of bricks had never even faltered: his molds and
kilns had finished the jail and were now raising the walls of two churches
and by the half-century would have completed what would be known through
all north Mississippi and cast Tennessee as the Academy, the Female
Institute) there was a committee: Compson and Sartoris and Peabody (and
in absentia Sutpen: nor would the town ever know exactly how much of the
additional cost Sutpen and Sartoris made up): and the next year the eight
disjointed marble columns were landed from an Italian ship at New Orleans,
into a steamboat up the Mississippi to Vicksburg, and into a smaller
steamboat up the Yazoo and Sunflower and Tallahatchie, to Ikkemotubbe's
old landing which Sutpen now owned, and thence the twelve miles by oxen
into Jefferson: the two identical four-column porticoes, one on the north
and one on the south, each with its balcony of wroughtiron New Orleans
grillwork, on one of which-the south one-in 1861 Sartoris would stand in
the first Confederate uniform the town had ever seen, while in the Square
below the Richmond mustering officer enrolled and swore in the regiment
which Sartoris as its colonel would take to Virginia as a part of Bee, to
be Jackson's extreme left in front of the Henry house at First Manassas,
and from both of which each May and November for a hundred years, bailiffs
in their orderly appointive almost hereditary succession would cry without
inflection or punctuation either 'oyes oyes honorable circuit court of
Yoknapatawpha County come all and ye shall be heard' and beneath which for
that same length of time too except for the seven years between '63 and
'70 which didn't really count a century afterward except to a few
irreconcilable old ladies, the white male citizens of the county would
pass to vote for county and state offices, because when in '63 a United
States military force burned the Square and the business district, the
courthouse survived. It didn't escape: it simply survived: harder than
axes, tougher than fire, more fixed than dynamite; encircled by the
tumbled and blackened ruins of lesser walls, it stifl stood, even the
topless smoke-stained columns, gutted of course and roofless, but immune,
not one hair even out of the Paris architect's almost forgotten plumb, so
that all they had to do (it took nine years to build; they needed
twenty-five to restore it) was put in new floors for the two storeys and
a new roof, and this time with a cupola with a four-faced clock and a bell
to strike the hours and ring alarms; by this time the Square, the banks
and the stores and the lawyers' and doctors' and dentists' offices, had
been restored, and the English sparrows were back too which had never
really deserted-the garrulous noisy independent swarms which, as though
204 WILLIAM FAULKNER
comitant with, inextricable from regularised and roted human quarreling, had
appeared in possession of cornices and gutterboxes almost before the last
nail was driven-and now the pigeons also, interminably murmurous, nesting
in, already usurping, the belfry even though they couldn't seem to get used
to the bell, bursting out of the cupola at each stroke of the hour in
frantic clouds, to sink and burst and whirl again at each succeeding stroke,
until the last one: then vanishing back through the slatted louvers until
nothing remained but the frantic and murmurous cooing like the fading echoes
of the bell itself, the source of the alarm never recognised and even the
alarm itself unremembered, as the actual stroke of the bell is no longer
remembered by the vibration-fading air. Because they-the sparrows and the
pigeons ndured, durable, a hundred years, the oldest things there except the
courthouse centennial and serene above the town most of whose people now no
longer even knew who Doctor Habersharn and old Alec Holston and Louis
Grenier were, had been; centennial and serene above the change: the
electricity and gasoline, the neon and the crowded cacophonous air; even
Negroes passing beneath the balconies and into the chancery clerk's office
to cast ballots too, voting for the same white-skinned rascals and
demagogues and white supremacy champions that the white ones did-durable:
every few years the county fathers, dreaming of bakshish, would instigate a
movement to tear it down and erect a new modern one, but someone would at
the last moment defeat them; they will try it again of course and be
defeated perhaps once again or even maybe twice again, but no more than
that. Because its fate is to stand in the hinterland of America: its doom is
its longevity; like a man, its simple age is its own reproach, and after the
hundred years, will become unbearable. But not for a little while yet; for
a little while yet the sparrows and pigeons: garrulous myriad and
independent the one, the other uxorious and interminable, at once frantic
and tranquil-until the clock strikes again which even after a hundred years,
they still seem unable to get used to, bursting in one swirling explosion
out of the belfry as though, the boiir, instead of merely adding one puny
infinitesimal more to the long weary increment since Genesis, had shattered
the virgin pristine air with the first loud dingdong of time and doom.
Courtroom. 5:30 P.m. November thirteenth.
The curtain is down. As the lights begin to go up:
(behind the curtain) Let the prisoner stand.
The curtain rises, symbolising the rising of the prisoner in the dock, and
revealing a section of the courtroom. It does not occupy the whole stage,
but only the upper left half, leaving the other half and the bottom of the
stage in darkness, so that the visible scene is not only spotlighted but
elevated slightly too, a further symbolism which will be clearer when Act
Il opens-the symbolism of the elevated tribunal of justice of which this,
a county court, is only the intermediate, not the highest, stage.
This is a section of the court-the bar, the judge, officers, the opposing
lawyer, the jury. The defense lawyer is Gavin Stevens, about fifty. He
looks more like a poet than a lawyer and actually is: a bachelor,
descendant of one of the pioneer Yoknapatawpha County families, Harvard
and Heidelberg educated, and returned to his native soil to be a sort of
bucolic Cincinnatus, champion not so much of truth as of justice, or of
justice as he sees it, constantly involving himself, often for no pay,
in affairs of equity and passion and even crime too among his people,
white and Negro both, sometimes directly contrary to his office of County
Attorney which he has held for years, as is the present business.
The prisoner is standing. She is the only one standing in the room-a
Negress, quite black, about thirty-that is, she could be almost anything
between twenty and forty-with a calm impenetrable almost bemused face,
the tallest, highest there with all eyes on her but she herself not
looking at any of them, but looking out and up as though at some distant
corner of the room, as though she were alone in it. She is-or until
recently, two months ago to be exact-a domestic servant, nurse to two
white children, the second of whom, an infant, she smothered in its
cradle two months ago, for which act she is now on trial for her life.
But she has probably done many things else-chopped cotton, cooked for
working gangs-any sort of manual labor within her capacities, or rather,
limitations in time and availability, since her principal reputation in
the little Mississippi town where she was bom is that of a tramp-
206 WILLIAM FAULKNER
a drunkard, a casual prostitute, being beaten by some man or cutting or
being cut by his wife or his other sweetheart. She has probably been
married, at least once. Her name-or so she calls it and would probably spell
it if she could spell-is Nancy Mannigoe.
There is a dead silence in the room while everybody watches her.
Have you anything to say before the sentence of the court is pronounced
Nancy neither answers nor moves; she doesn't even seem to be listening.
That you, Nancy Mannigoe, did on the thirteenth day of June, wilfully and
with malice aforethought kill and murder the infant child of Mr and Mrs
Gowan Stevens in the town of Jefferson and the County of Yoknapatawpha
It is the sentence of this court that you be taken from hence back to the
county jail of Yoknapatawpha County and there on the thirteenth day of
March be hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy
on your soul.
(quite loud in the silence, to no one, quite calm, not moving) Yes, Lord.
There is a gasp, a sound, from the invisible spectators in the room, of
shock at this unheard-of violation of procedure: the beginning of something
which might be consternation and even uproar, in the midst of, or rather
above which, Nancy herself does not move. The judge bangs his gavel, the
bailiff springs up, the curtain starts hurriedly and jerkily down as if the
judge, the officers, the court itself were jerking frantically at it to hide
this disgraceful business; from somewhere among the unseen spectators thrre
comes the sound of a woman's voice-a moan, wail, sob perhaps.
Orderl Order in the courtl Orderl
The curtain descends rapidly, hiding the scene, the lights fade rapidly into
darkness: a moment of darkness: then the curtain rises smoothly and normally
Stevens living-room 6:00 P.m. November thirteenth.
Living-room, a center table with a lamp, chairs, a sofa left rear,
floor-lamp, wall-bracket lamps, a door left enters from the hall, double
doors rear stand open on a dining-room, a fireplace right with gas logs. The
atmosphere of the room is smart, modern, up-to-date, yet the room itself has
the air of another time-the high ceiling, the cornices, some of the furni-
ture; it has the air of being in an old house, an ante-bellum house
descended at last to a spinster survivor who has modernised it (vide the gas
fire and the two overstuffed chairs) into apartments rented to young couples
or families who can afford to pay that much rent in order to live on the
right street among other young couples who belong to the right church and
the country club.
Sound of feet, then the lights come on as if someone about to enter had
pressed a wall switch, then the door left opens and Temple enters, followed
by Gowan, her husband, and the lawyer, Gavin Stevens. She is in the middle
twenties, very smart, soign6e, in an open fur coat, wearing a hat and
gloves and carrying a handbag. Her air is brittle and tense, yet con-
trolled. Her face shows nothing as she crosses to the center table and
stops. Gowan is three or four years older. He is almost a type; there were
many of him in America, the South, between the two great wars: only
children of financially secure parents living in city apartment hotels,
alumni of the best colleges, South or East, where they belonged to the
right clubs; married now and raising families yet still alumni of their
schools, performing acceptably jobs they themselves did not ask for,
usually concerned with money: cotton futures, or stocks, or bonds. But this
face is a little different, a little more than that. Something has happened
to it-tragedy-something, against which it had had no warning, and to cope
with which (as it discovered) no equipment, yet which it has accepted and
is trying, really and sincerely and selflessly (perhaps for the first time
in its life) to do its best with according to its code. He and Stevens wear
their overcoats, carrying their hats. Stevens stops just inside the room.
Gowan drops his hat onto the sofa in passing and goes on to where Temple
stands at the table, stripping off one of her gloves.
208 WILLIAM FAULKNER
(takes cigarette from box on the table: mimics the prisoner; her
voice, harsh, reveals for the first time repressed, controlled, hys-
teria) Yes, God. Guilty, God. Thank you, God. If that's your attitude
toward being hung, what else can you expect from a judge and jury
except to accommodate you?
Stop it, Boots. Hush now. Soon as I light the fire, I'll buy a drink.
Or maybe Gavin will do the fire while I do the butler.
(takes up lighter)
I'll do the fire. You get the drinks. Then Uncle Gavin won't have to
stay. After all, all he wants to do is say good-bye and send me a
postcard. He can almost do that in two words, if he tries hard, Then
he can go home.
She crosses to the hearth and kneels and turns the gas valve, the lighter
ready in her other hand.
(anxiously) Now, Boots.
(snaps lighter, holds flame to the
Will you for God's sake please get me a drink?
(he turns: to Stevens) Drop your coat anywhere.
He exits into the dining-room. Stevens does not move, watching Temple as
the log takes fire.
(still kneeling, her back to Stevens) If you're going to stay, why
dont you sit down? Or vice versa. Backward. Only, it's the first one
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 209
backward: if you're not sitting down, why dont you go? Let me be
bereaved and vindicated, but at least let me do it in privacy, since
God knows if any one of the excretions should take place in privacy,
triumph should be the one-
Stevens watches her. Then he crosses to her, taking the handkerchief from
his breast pocket, stops behind her and extends the handkerchief down
where she can see it. She looks at it, then up at him. Her face is quite
What's that for?
It's all right. It's dry too.
(still extending the bandkerchief)
For tomorrow, then.
Oh, for cinders. On the train. We're going by air; hadn't Gowan told
you? We leave from the Memphis airport at midnight; we're driving up
after supper. Then California tomorrow morning; maybe we'll even go on
to Hawaii in the spring. No; wrong season: Canada, maybe. Lake Louise
in May and June-
(she stops, listens a moment toward the dining-room doors)
So why the handkerchief? Not a threat, because you dont have anything
to threaten me with, do you? And if you dont have anything to threaten
me with, I must not have anything you want, so it cant be a bribe
either, can it?
(they both hear the sound from beyond the dining-room
doors which indicates that Gowan is approaching. Temple
lowers her voice again, rapidly)
Put it this way then. I dont know what you want, because I dont care.
Because whatever it is, you wont get it from me.
(the sound is near now-footsteps, clink of glass)
Now he'll offer you a drink, and then he'll ask you too what you want,
why you followed us home. I've already answered you. No. If what you
came for is
210 WILLIAM FAULKNER
to see me weep, I doubt if you'll even get that. But you certainly
wont get anything else. Not from me. Do you understand that?
I hear you.
Meaning, you don't believe it. All right, toucW then. (quicker, tenser)
I refused to answer your question; now I'll ask you one: How much do
(as Gowan enters, she changes what she was saying so
smoothly in mid-sentence that anyone entering would not
even realise that the pitch of her voice had altered)
-are her lawyer, she must have talked to you; even a dope-fiend that
murders a little baby must have what she calls some excuse for it,
even a nigger dopefiend and a white baby-or maybe even more, a nigger
dope-fiend and a white baby-
I said, stop it, Boots.
He carries a tray containing a pitcher of water, a bowl of ice, three
empty tUmblers and three whiskey glasses already filled. The bottle itself
protrudes from his topcoat pocket. He approaches Temple and offers the
That's right. I'm going to have one myself. For a change. After eight
years. Why not?
Why not? (looks at the tray) Not highballs?
Not this one.
She takes one of the filled glasses. He offers the tray to Stevens, who
takes the second one. Then he sets the tray on the table and takes up the
Nary a drink in eight years; count 'em. So maybe this will be a good
time to start again. At least, it wont be too soon.
Drink up. A little water behind it?
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 211
As though not aware that he had done so, he sets his untasted glass back on
the tray, splashes water from the pitcher into a tumbler and hands the
tumbler to Stevens as Stevens empties his glass and lowers it, taking the
tumbler. Temple has not touched hers either.
Now maybe Defense Attorney Stevens will tell us what he wants here.
Your wife has already told you. To say good-bye.
Then say it. One more for the road, and where's your
He takes the tumbler from Stevens and turns back to the
(sets her untasted glass back on the tray)
And put ice in it this time, and maybe even a little water. But first,
take Uncle Gavin's coat.
(takes bottle from his pocket and makes a highball for
Stevens in the tumbler)
That wont be necessary. If he could raise his arm in a white courtroom
to defend a murdering nigger, he can certainly bend it in nothing but a
wool overcoat -at least to take a drink with the victim's mother.
(quickly: to Temple)
Sorry. Maybe you were right all the time, and I was wrong. Maybe we've
both got to keep on saying things like that until we can get rid of them,
some of them, a little of them-
All right, why not? Here goes then.
(she is watching, not Gowan but Stevens, who watches her in
return, grave and soberly)
Dont forget the father too, dear.
(mixing the drink)
Why should 1, dear? How could 1, dear? Except that the child's father is
unfortunately just a man. In the eyes of the law, men are not supposed
to suffer: they
212 WILLIAM FAULKNER
are merely appellants or appellees. The law is tender only of women
and children-particularly of women, PaFtICLII.,Irly particular of
nigger dope-fiend whores who murder white children.
(hands the highball to Stevens, who takes it) So why should we expect
Defense Attorney Stevens to be tendcr of a man or a woman who just
happen to be the parents of the child that got murdered?
Will you for God's sake please get through? Then will you for God's
sake please hush?
(quickly: turns) Sorry.
(he turns toward her, sees her hand empty, then sees her full glass
beside his own on the tray) No drink?
I don't want it. I want some milk.
Right. Hot, of course.
Right. I thought of that too. I put a pan on to beat while I was
getting the drinks.
(crossing toward dining-room exit) Dont let Uncle Gavin get away until
I get back. Lock the door, if you have to. Or maybe just telephone
that nigger freedom agent-what's his name?-
He exits. They dont move until the sIap of the pantry door sounds.
(rapid and hard) How much do you know?
Dont lie to me; dont you see there's not time?
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 213
Not time for what? Before your plane leaves tonight? She has a little time
yet-four months, until March, the thirteenth of March-
You know what I mean-her lawyer-seeing her every day-just a nigger, and
you a white maneven if you needed anything to frighten her withyou could
just buy it from her with a dose of cocaine or a pint of . . .
(she stops, stares at him, in a sort of amazement, despair; her
voice is almost quiet)
Oh, God, oh, God, she hasn't told you anything. It's me; I'm the one
that's-Dont you see? It's that I cannot believe-will not
Impossible to believe that all human beings really dont-as you put
it-stink? Even-as you put itdope-fiend nigger whores? No, she told me
TEMPLE (prompts) Even if there was anything more.
Even if there was.
Then what is it you think you know? Never mind where you got it; just tell
me what you think it is.
There was a man there that night.
(quick, glib, almost before he has finished)
That night? When Gowan had left with Bucky at six that morning to drive
to New Orleans in a car?
So I was right. Did you frighten her, or just buy it? (interrupts herself)
214 WILLIAM FAULKNER
I'm trying. I'm really trying. Maybe it wouldn't be so hard if I could
just understand why they dont stinkwhat reason they would have for not
stinking. . . .
(she stops; it is as if she had heard a sound presaging Gow-
an's return, or perhaps simply knew by instinct or from
knowledge of her own house that he had had time to heat a
cup of milk. Then continues, rapid and quiet)
There was no man there. You see? I told you, warned you, that you would
get nothing from me. Oh, I know; you could have put me on the stand at
any time, under oath; of course, your jury wouldn't have liked it-that
wanton crucifixion of a bereaved mamma, but what's that in the balance
with justice? I dont know why you didn't. Or maybe you still intend
to-provided you can catch us before we cross the Tennessee line tonight.
(quick, tense, bard)
All right. I'm sorry. I know better. So maybe it's just my own stinking
after all that I find impossible to doubt.
(the pantry door slaps again; they both hear it)
Because I'm not even going to take Gowan with me when I say good-bye and
go up stairs.-And who knows-
She stops. Gowan enters, carrying a small tray bearing a glass of milk, a
salt-shaker and a napkin, and comes to the table.
What are you talking about now?
Nothing. I was telling Uncle Gavin that he had something of Virginia or
some sort of gentleman in him too that he must have inherited from you
through your grandfather, and that I'm going up to give Bucky his bath
(she touches the glass for heat, then takes it up, to Gowan)
Thank you, dear.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 215
You see? Not just a napkin; the right napkin. That's how I'm trained.
(he stops suddenly, noticin- Trmple, who has done not' inq annarently:
just standing ttie-e holding the milk. But he see-is to ki.low what
is going on: to her) What's this for?
I don't know.
He moves; they kiss, not Iona but not a peck either-, dcfinitely a kiss
between a man and a woman. Then, carrying the milk, Temple crosses toward
the hall door.
Good-bye then until next June. Bucky will send you and Maggie a
(she goes on to the dnor, pauses and looks back at Stevens) I may even
be wrong ahout Temple Drake's odor too; if you should hannen to hear
sometbing you haven't heard yet and it's true, I may even ratify it.
Nl~,ybe you can even believe that-if you can believe you are going to
hear anything that you haven't heard yet.
1~,Fter a moment)
Not from me, Uncle Gavin. If s-mcone wants to go to heaven, who am I
to stop them? Good night. Goodbye.
She exits, closes the door. Stevens, very grave, turns back and sets his
highball down on the tray.
Drink up. After all, I've got to eat supper and do some packing too.
How about it?
About what? The packing, or the drink? What about you? I thought you
were going to have one.
Oh, sure, sure.
(takes up the sm,,ill filled gl-iss) Maybe you had better
go on and leave us to our revenge.
216 WILLIAM FAULKNER
I wish it could comfort you.
I wish to God it could. I wish to God that what I wanted was only
revenge. An eye for an eye-were ever words emptier? Only, you have got
to have lost the eye to know it.
Yet she still has to die.
Why not? Even if she would be any loss-a nigger whore, a drunkard, a
-a vagabond, a tramp, hopeless until one day Mr and Mrs Gowan Stevens
out of simple pity and humanity picked her up out of the gutter to
give her one more chance-
(Gowan stands motionless, his hand tightening slowly about
the glass. Stevens watches him)
And then in return for it-
Look, Uncle Gavin. Why dont you go for God's sake home? Or to hell,
or anywhere out of here?
I am, in a minute. Is that why you think-why you would still say she
has to die?
I dont. I had nothing to do with it. I wasn't even the plaintiff. I
didn't even instigate-that's the word, isn't 0-the suit. My only
connection with it was, I happened by chance to be the father of the
child she- Who in hell ever called that a drink?
He dashes the whiskey, glass and all, into the ice bowl, quickly catches
up one of the empty tumblers in one hand and, at the same time, tilts the
whiskey bottle over it, pouring. At first he makes no sound, but at once
it is obvious that he is laughing: laughter which begins normally enough,
but almost immediately it is out of hand, just on hysteria, while he still
pours whiskey into the glass, which in a moment now will overflow, except
that Stevens reaches his hand and grasps the bottle and stops it.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 217
Stop it. Stop it, now. Here.
He takes the bottle from Gowan, sets it down, takes the tumbler and tilts
part of its contents into the other empty one, leaving at least a
reasonable, a believable, drink, and hands it to Gowan. Gowan takes it,
stopping the crazy laughter, gets hold of himself again.
(holding the glass untasted)
Eight years. Eight years on the wagon-and this is what I got for it:
my child murdered by a dope-fiend nigger whore that wouldn't even run
so that a cop or somebody could have shot her down like the maddog-You
see? Eight years without the drink, and so I got whatever it was I was
buying by not drinking, and now I've got whatever it was I was paying
for and it's paid for and so I can drink again. And now I dont want
the drink. You see? Like whatever it was I was buying I not only
didn't want, but what I was paying for it wasn't worth anything,
wasn't even any loss. So I have a laugh coming. That's triumph. Be-
cause I got a bargain even in what I didn't want. I got a cut rate.
I had two children. I had to pay only one of them to find out it
wasn't really costing me anything- Half price: a child, and a
dope-fiend nigger whore on a public gallows: that's all I had to pay
There's no such thing.
From the past. From my folly. My drunkenness.
My cowardice, if you like
There's no such thing as past either.
That is a laugh, that one. Only, not so loud, huh? to disturb the
ladies-disturb Miss Drake-Miss Temple Drake.-Sure, why not cowardice.
Only, for euphony, call it simple over-training. You know? Gowan
Stevens, trained at Virginia to drink like a gentleman, gets drunk as
ten gentlemen, takes a country college girl, a maiden: who knows?
maybe even a
218 WILLIAM FAULKNER
virgin, cross country by car to another country college ball game,
gets drunker than twenty gentlemen, gets lost, gets still drunker than
forty gentlemen, wrecks the car, passes eighty gentlemen now, passes
completely out while the maiden the virgin is being kidnapped into a
(He mumbles an indistinguish-
Sure; cowardice. Call it cowardice; what's a little euphony between
old married people?
Not the marrying her afterward, at least. What-
Sure. Marrying her was purest Old Virginia. That was indeed the
hundred and sixty gentlemen.
The intent was, by any other standards too. The prisoner in the
whorehouse; I didn't quite hear-
(quickly: reaching for it) Where's your glass? Dump that
This will do. What was that you said about held prisoner in the
(harshly) That's all. You heard it.
You said 'and loved it.'
(they stare at each other)
Is that what you can never forgive her for?- not for having been the
instrument creating that moment in your life which you can never
recall nor forget nor explain nor condone nor even stop thinking
about, but because she herself didn't even suffer, but on the
contrary, even liked it-that month or whatever it was like the episode
in the old movie of the white
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 219
girl held prisoner in the cave by the Bedouin prince? -That you had to
lose not only your bachelor freedom, but your man's self-respect in the
chastity of his wife and your child too, to pay for something your wife
hadn't even lost, didn't even regret, didn't even miss? Is that why this
poor lost doomed crazy Negro woman must die?
(tensely) Get out of here. Go on.
In a minute.-Or else, blow your own brains out:
stop having to remember, stop having to be forever
unable to forget: nothing; to plunge into nothing and
sink and drown forever and forever, never again to
have to remember, never again to wake in the ni ' ght
writhing and sweating because you cannot, can never
not, stop remembering? What else happened during
that month, that time while that madman held her
prisoner there in that Memphis house, that nobody
but you and she knew about, maybe not even you
Still staring at Stevens, slowly and deliberately Gowan sets the glass of
whiskey back on the tray and takes up the bottle and swings it bottom up
back over his head. The stopper is out, and at once the whiskey begins to
pour out of it, down his arm and sleeve and onto the floor. He does not seem
to be aware of it even. His voice is tense, barely articulate.
So help me, Christ ... So help me, Christ.
A moment, then Stevens moves, without haste, sets his own
glass back on the tray and turns, taking his hat as he passes
the sofa, and goes on to the door and exits. Gowan stands a
moment longer with the poised bottle, now empty. Then he
draws a long shuddering breath, seems to rouse, wake, sets
the empty bottle back on the tray, notices his untasted whiskey
glass, takes it up, a moment: then turns and throws the glass
crashing into the fireplace, against the burning gas logs, and
stands, his back to the audience, and draws another long
shuddering breath and then draws both hands hard down his
face, then turns, looking at his wet sleeve, takes out his hand
kerchief and dabs at his sleeve as he comes back to the table,
puts the handkerchief back in his pocket and takes the folded
napkin from the small tray beside the saltcellar and wipes his
220 WILLIAM FAULKNER
sleeve with it, sees he is doing no good, tosses the crumpled napkin back
onto the whiskey tray; and now, outwardly quite c,91m again, as though
nothing had happened, he gathers the gl-sses back onto the big tray, puts
the small tray and the napkin onto it too and takes up the tray and walks
quietly toward the dining-room door as the lights begin to go down.
The lights go completely down. The stage is dark.
The lights go up.
Stevens living room. 10:00 P.m. March eleventh
The room is exactly as it was four months ago, except that the only light
buming is the lamp on the table, and the sofa has been moved so that it
partly faces the audience, with a smqll motionless blanket-wrapped object
lying on it, and one of the chairs placed between the lamp and the sofa so
that the shadow of its back falls across the object on the sofa, making it
more or less indistinguishable, and the dining-room doors are now closed.
The telephone sits on the small stand in the corner right as in Scene Two.
The hall door opens. Temple enters, followed by Stevens. She now wears a
long housecoat; her hair is tied back with a ribbon as though prepared for
bed. This time Stevens carries the topcoat and the hat too; his suit is
different. Apparently she has already warned Stevens to be quiet; his air
anyway shows it. She enters, stops, lets him pass her. He pauses, looks
about the room, sees the sofa, stands looking at it.
This is what they call a plant.
He crosses to the sofa, Temple watching him, and stops, looking down at the
shadowed object. He quietly draws aside the shadowing chair and reveals a
little boy, about four, wrapped in the blanket, asleep.
Why not? Don't the philosophers and other gynecologists tell us that
women will strike back with any weapon, even their children?
(watching the child)
Including the sleeping pill you told me you gave Gowan?
REQUIEM FOR A NUN. 221
If I would just stop struggling: how much time we would save. I came
all the way back from California, but I still cant seem to quit. Do
you believe in coincidence?
(turns) Not unless I have to.
(at table, takes up a folded yellow telegraph form, opens
Dated Jefferson, March sixth. 'You have a week yet until the
thirteenth. But where will you go thenT signed Gavin.
She folds the paper back into its old creases, folds it still again.
Stevens watches her.
Well? This is the eleventh. Is that the coincidence?
No. This is.
(she drops, tosses the folded paper onto the table, turns)
It was that afternoon-the sixth. We were on the beach, Bucky and 1.
1 was reading, and he was-oh, talking mostly, you know-'Is California
far from Jefferson, mammaT and I say 'Yes, darling'-you know: still
reading or trying to, and he says, 'How long will we stay in
California, mammaT and I say, 'Until we get tired of it' and he says,
'Will we stay here until they hang Nancy, mamma?' and it's already too
late then; I should have seen it coming but it's too late now; I say,
'Yes, darling' and then he drops it right in my lap, right out of the
mouths of-how is W-babes and sucklings. 'Where will we go then,
marnmaT And then we come back to the hotel, and there you are too.
222 WILLIAM FAULKNER
All right. Let's for God's sake stop.
(goes to a chair)
Now that I'm here, no matter whose fault it was, what do you want? A
drink? Will you drink? At least, put your coat and hat down.
I dont even know yet. That's why you came back-
I came back? It wasn't I who--
-who said, let's for God's sake stop.
They stare at each other: a moment.
All right. Put down your coat and hat.
Stevens lays his hat and coat on a chair. Temple sits down. Stevens takes a
chair opposite, so that the sleeping child on the sofa is between them in
So Nancy must be saved. So you send for me, or you and Bucky between
you, or anyway here you are and here I am. Because apparently I know
something I haven't told yet, or maybe you know something I haven't told
yet. What do you think you know?
(quickly; he says nothing)
All right. What do you know?
Nothing. I dont want to know it. All I-
Say that again.
Say what again?
What is it you think you know?
Nothing. I- REQUIEM FOR A NUN 223
All right. Why do you think there is something I haven't told yet?
You came back. All the way from California-
Not enough. Try again.
You were there.
(with her face averted, Temple reaches her hand to the
table, fumbles until she finds the cigarette box, takes a
cigarette and with the same hand fumbles until she finds
the lighter, draws them back to her lap)
At the trial. Every day. All day, from the time court opened-
(still not looking at him, supremely casual, puts the
cigarette into her mouth, talking around it, the cigarette
The bereaved mother-
Yes, the bereaved mother-
(the cigarette bobbing: still not looking at him)
-herself watching the accomplishment of her revenge; the tigress over
the body of her slain cub-
-who should have been too immersed in grief to have thought of
revenge-to have borne the very sight of her child's murderer ...
(not looking at him)
Methinks she doth protest too much?
Stevens doesn't answer. She snaps the lighter on, lights the cigarette,
puts the lighter back on the table. Leaning, Stevens
224 WILLIAM FAULKNER
pushes the ashtray along the table until she can reach it. Now she looks
Thanks. Now let grandmamma teach you how to suck an egg. It doesn't
matter what I know, what you think I know, what might have happened.
Because we wont even need it. All we need is an affidavit. That she is
crazy. Has been for years.
I thought of that too. Only it's too late. That should have been done
about five months ago. The trial is over now. She has been convicted
and sentenced. In the eyes of the law, she is already dead. In the
eyes of the law, Nancy Mannigoe doesn't even exist. Even if there
wasn't a better reason than that. The best reason of all.
We haven't got one.
(she sits back in the chair smoking rapidly, looking at
Stevens. Her voice is gentle, patient, only a little too
rapid, like the smoking)
That's right. Try to listen. Really try. I am the affidavit; what else
are we doing here at ten o'clock at night barely a day from her
execution? What else did I-as you put it-come all the way back from
California for, not to mention a-as you have probably put that
too-faked coincidence to save-as I would put it I suppose-my face? All
we need now is to decide just how much of what to put in the
affidavit. Do try; maybe you had better have a drink after all.
Later, maybe. I'm dizzy enough right now with just perjury and
contempt of court.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 225
Not venal then, worse: inept. After my client is not only convicted but
sentenced, I turn up with the prosecution's chief witness offering
evidence to set the whole trial aside-
Tell them I forgot this. Or tell them I changed my mind. Tell them the
district attorney bribed me to keep my mouth shut-
(peremptory yet quiet) Temple.
She puffs rapidly at the cigarette, removes it from her mouth.
Or better still; wont it be obvious? a woman whose child was smothered
in its crib, wanting vengeance, capable of anything to get the vengeance;
then when she has it, realising she cant go through with it, cant
sacrifice a human life for it, even a nigger whore's?
Stop it. One at a time. At least, let's talk about the same thing.
What else are we talking about except saving a condemned client whose
trained lawyer has already admitted that he has failed?
Then you really dont want her to die. You did invent the coincidence.
Didn't I just say so? At least, let's for God's sake stop that, cant we?
Done. So Temple Drake will have to save her.
Mrs Gowan Stevens will.
226 WILLIAM FAULKNER
She stares at him, smoking, deliberately now. Deliberately she removes the
cigarette and, still watching him, reaches and snubs it out in the ashtray.
All right. Tell me again. Maybe I'll even understand this time, let
alone listen. We produce-turn up with -a sworn affidavit that this
murderess was crazy when she committed the crime.
You did listen, didn't you? Who knows-
Based on what?
The affidavit. Based on what?
(she stares at him) On what proof?
Proof. What will be in the affidavit? What are we going to affirm now
that for some reason, any reason, we-you-we didn't see fit to bring up
or anyway didn't bring up until after she-
How do I know? You're the lawyer. What do you want in it? What do such
affidavits have in them, need to have in them, to make them work, make
them sure to work? Dont you have samples in your law booksreports,
whatever you call them-that you can copy and have me swear to? Good
ones, certain ones? At least, while we're committing whatever this is,
pick out a good one, such a good one that nobody, not even an untrained
lawyer, can punch holes in it....
Her voice ceases. She stares at him, while he continues to look steadily
back at her, saying nothing, just looking at her, until at last she draws a
loud harsh breath; her voice is harsh too.
What do you want then? What more do you want?
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 227
(quick, harsh, immediate) No. Mrs Gowan Stevens.
(implacable and calm) Temple Drake. The truth.
Truth? We're trying to save a condemned murderess whose lawyer has already
admitted that he has failed. What has truth got to do with that?
We? 1, 1, the mother of the baby she murdered; not you, Gavin Stevens. the
lawyer, but 1, Mrs Gowan Stevens, the mother. Cant you get it through your
head that I will do anything, anything?
Except one. Which is all. We're not concerned with death. That's nothing:
any handful of petty facts and sworn documents can cope with that. That's
all finished now; we can forget it. What we are trying to deal with now
is injustice. Only truth can cope with that. Or love.
(harshly) Love. Oh, God. Love.
Call it pity then. Or courage. Or simple honor, honesty, or a simple
desire for the right to sleep at night.
You prate of sleep, to me, who learned six years ago how not even to
realise any more that I didn't mind not sleeping at night?
Yet you invented the coincidence.
Will you for Christ's sake stop? Will you . . . All right. Then if her
dying is nothing, what do you want? What in God's name do you want?
I told you. Truth.
228 WILLIAM FAULKNER
And I told you that what you keep on harping at as truth has nothing to
do with this. When you go before the- What do you call this next
collection of trained lawyers? supreme court?-what you will need will be
facts, papers, documents, sworn to, incontrovertible, that no other
lawyer trained or untrained either can punch holes in, find any flaw in.
We're not going to the supreme court.
(she stares at him)
That's all finished. If that could have been done, would have sufficed,
I would have thought of that, attended to that, four months ago. We're
going to the Governor. Tonight.
Perhaps he wont save her either. He probably wont.
Then why ask him? Why?
I've told you. Truth.
(in quiet amazement)
For no more than that. For no better reason than that. Just to get it
told, breathed aloud, into words, sound. Just to be heard by, told to,
someone, anyone, any stranger none of whose business it is, can possibly
be, simply because he is capable of hearing, comprehending it. Why blink
your own rhetoric? Why dont you go and tell me it's for the good of my
soul-if I have one?
I did. I said, so you can sleep at night.
And I told you I forgot six years ago even what it was to miss the
She stares at him. He doesn't answer, looking at her. Still watching him,
she reaches her hand to the table, toward the cigarette box, then stops, is
motionless, her hand suspended, staring at him.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 229
There is something else, then. We're even going to get the true one
this time. All right. Shoot.
He doesn't answer, makes no sign, watching her. A moment: then she turns
her head and looks toward the sofa and the sleeping child. Still looking
at the child, she rises and crosses to the sofa and stands looking down
at the child; her voice is quiet.
So it was a plant, after all; I just didn't seem to know for who.
(she looks down at the child) I threw my remaining child
at you. Now you threw him back.
But I didn't wake him.
Then I've got you, lawyer. What would be better for his peace and
sleep than to hang his sister's murderer?
No matter by what means, in what lie?
Yet you invented the coincidence.
Mrs Gowan Stevens did.
Temple Drake did. Mrs Gowan Stevens is not even fightiDg in this
class. This is Temple Drake's.
Temple Drake is dead.
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
She comes back to the table, takes a cigarette from the box, puts it in
her mouth and reaches for the lighter. He leans as though to hand it to
her, but she has already found it, snaps it on and lights the cigarette,
talking through the smoke.
230 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Listen. How much do you know?
Would you believe me?
No. But swear anyway.
All right. I swear.
(crushes cigarette into tray) Then listen. Listen
(she stands, tense, rigid,
facing him, staring at him)
Temple Drake is dead. Temple Drake will have been dead six years
longer than Nancy Mannigoe will ever be. If all Nancy Mannigoe has to
save her is Temple Drake, then God help Nancy Mannigoe. Now get out
She stares at him; another moment. Then he rises, still watching her; she
stares steadily and implacably. Then he moves.
He goes back to the chair, takes up his coat and hat, then goes on to the
hall door, has put his hand on the knob.
(he pauses, his hand on the knob, and looks back at her) Maybe I'll
have the handkerchief, after all.
(he looks at her a moment longer, then releases the knob,
takes the handkerchief from his breast pocket as he
crosses back toward her, extends it. She doesn't take it)
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 231
All right. What will I have to do? What do you suggest, then?
Which of course I wont. I will not. You can understand that, cant you?
At least you can hear it. So let's start over, shall we? How much will
I have to tell?
Then I wont need the handkerchief, after all. Good night. Close the
front door when you go out, please. It's getting cold again.
He turns, crosses again to the door without stopping nor looking back,
exits, closes the door behind him. She is not watching him either now. For
a moment after the door has closed, she doesn't move. Then she makes a
gesture something like Gowan's in Scene Two, except that she merely presses
her palms for a moment hard against her face, her face calm, expressionless,
cold, drops her hands, turns, picks up the crushed cigarette from beside the
tray and puts it into the tray and takes up the tray and crosses to the
fireplace, glancing down at the sleeping child as she passes the sofa,
empties the tray into the fireplace and returns to the table and puts the
tray on it and this time pauses at the sofa and stoops and tucks the blanket
closer about the sleeping child and then goes on to the telephone and lifts
(into the phone) Two three nine, please.
(while she stands waiting for the answer, there is a slight
movement in the darkness beyond the open door at rear, just
enough silent movement to show that something or someone is
there or has moved there. Temple is unaware of it since her
back is turned. Then she speaks into the phone)
Maggie? Temple. . . . Yes, suddenly . . . Oh, I dont know; perhaps we
got bored with sunshine.... Of course, I may drop in tomorrow. I wanted
232 WILLIAM FAULKNER
a message for Gavin ... I know; he just left here. Something I forgot .
. . If you'll ask him to call me when he comes in . . . . Yes. . . .
Wasn't it. . . . Yes. . . . If you will . . . Thank you.
(she puts the receiver down and starts to turn back into the
room when the telephone rings. She turns back, takes up the
receiver, speaks into it)
Hello . . . Yes. Coincidence again; I had my hand on it; I had just
called Maggie. . . . Oh, the filling station. I didn't think you had had
time. I can be ready in thirty minutes. Your car, or ours? . . . All
right. Listen. . . . Yes, I'm here. Gavin . . . How much will I have to
Oh, I know: you've already told me eight or ten times. But maybe I
didn't hear it right. How much will I have to tell?
(she listens a moment, quiet, frozen-faced, then slowly
begins to lower the receiver toward the stand; she speaks
quietly, without inflection)
Oh, God. Oh, God.
She puts the receiver down, crosses to the sofa, snaps off the table lamp
and takes up the child and crosses to the door to the hall, snaps off the
remaining room lights as she goes out, so that the only light in the room
now enters from the hall. As soon as she has disappeared from sight, Gowan
enters from the door at rear, dressed except for his coat, vest and tie. He
has obviously taken no sleeping pill. He goes to the phone and stands
quietly beside it, facing the hall door and obviously listening until Temple
is safely away. Now the hall light snaps off,and the stage is in complete
Two three nine, please . . . Good evening, Aunt Maggie. Gowan . . . All
right, thank you . . . Su re, some time tomorrow. As soon as Uncle Gavin
comes in, will you have him call me? I'll be right here. Thank you.
(Sound of the receiver as he puts it back)
THE GOLDEN DOME (Beginning Was the Word)
JACKSON. Alt. 294 ft. Pop. (A.D. 1950) 201,092.
Located by an expedition of three Commissioners selected appointed and
dispatched for that single purpose, on a high bluff above Pearl River at
the approximate geographical center of the State, to be not a market nor
industrial town, nor even as a place for men to live, but to be a capital,
the Capital of a Commonwealth;
In the beginning was already decreed this rounded knob, this gilded
pustule, already before and beyond the steamy chiaroscuro, untimed
unseasoned winterless miasma not any one of water or earth or life yet all
of each, inextricable and indivisible; that one seethe one spawn one
mother-womb, one furious tumescence, father-mother-one, one vast incubant
ejaculation already fissionating in one boiling moil of litter from the
celestial experimental Work Bench; that one spawning crawl and creep
printing with three-toed mastodonic tracks the steamy-green swaddling
clothes of the coal and the oil, above which the pea-brained reptilian
heads curved the heavy leatherflapped air;
Then the ice, but still this knob, this pimple-dome, this buried
half-ball hemisphere; the earth lurched, heaving darkward the
long continental flank, dragging upward beneath the polar cap
that furious equatorial womb, the shutter-lid of cold severing
off into blank and heedless void one last sound, one cry, one
puny myriad indictment already fading and then no more, the
blind and tongueless earth spinning on, looping the long record
less astral orbit, frozen, tideless, yet still was there this tiny
gleam, this spark, this gilded crumb of man's eternal aspira
tion, this golden dome preordained and impregnable, this
minuscule foetus-glint tougher than ice and harder than freeze;
the earth lurched again, sloughing; the ice with infinitesimal
speed, scouring out the valleys, scoring the hills, and vanished;
the earth tilted further to recede the sea rim by necklace-rim
of crustacean husks in recessional contour lines like the con
centric whorls within the sawn stump telling the tree's age,
234 WILLIAM FAULKNER
bearing south by recessional south toward that mute and beckoning gleam
the confluent continental swale, baring to light and air the broad blank
mid-continental page for the first scratch of orderly recording-a
laboratory-factory covering what would be twenty states, established and
ordained for the purpose of manufacturing one: the ordered unhurried whirl
of seasons, of rain and snow and freeze and thaw and sun and drouth to
aereate and slack the soil, the conflux of a hundred rivers into one vast
father of rivers carrying the rich dirt, the rich garnering, south and
south, carving the bluffs to bear the long march of the river towns,
flooding the Mississippi lowlands, spawning the rich alluvial dirt layer
by vernal layer, raising inch by foot by year by century the surface of
the earth which in time (not distant now, measured against that long
signatureless chronicle) would tremble to the passing of trains like that
when the cat crosses the suspension bridge;
The rich deep black alluvial soil which would grow cotton taller than the
head of a man on a horse, already one jungle one brake one impassable
density of brier and cane and vine interlocking the soar of gum and
cypress and hickory and pinoak and ash, printed now by the tracks of
unalien shapes-bear and deer and panthers and bison and wolves and
alligators and the myriad smaller beasts, and unalien men to name them too
perhaps-the (themselves) nameless though recorded predecessors who built
the mounds to escape the spring floods and left their meagre artifacts:
the obsolete and the dispossessed, dispossessed by those who were
dispossessed in turn because they too were obsolete: the wild Algonquian,
Chickasaw and Choctaw and Natchez and Pascagoula, peering in virgin aston-
ishment down from the tall bluffs at a Chippeway canoe bearing three
Frenchmen-and had barely time to whirl and look behind him at ten and then
a hundred and then a thousand Spaniards come overland from the Atlantic
Ocean: a tide, a wash, a thrice flux-and-ebb of motion so rapid and quick
across the land's slow alluvial chronicle as to resemble the limber
flicking of the magician's one hand before the other holding the deck of
inconstant cards: the Frenchman for a moment, then the Spaniard for
perhaps two, then the Frenchman for another two and then the Spaniard
again for another and then the Frenchman for that one last second,
half-breath; because then came the Anglo-Saxon, the pioneer, the tall man,
roaring with Protestant scripture and boiled whiskey, Bible and jug in one
hand and (like as not) a native tomahawk in the other, brawling, turbulent
not through viciousness but simply because of his over-revved glands;
uxorious and polygamous: a married invincible bachelor, dragging his
gravid wife and most
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 235
of the rest of his mother-in-law's family behind him into the trackless
infested forest, spawning that child as like as not behind the barricade of
a rifle-crotched log mapless leagues from nowhere and then getting her with
another one before reaching his final itch-footed destination, and at the
same time scattering his ebullient seed in a hundred dusky bellies through
a thousand miles of wilderness; innocent and gullible, without bowels for
avarice or compassion or forethought either, changing the face of the earth:
felling a tree which took two hundred years to grow, in order to extract
from it a bear or a capful of wild honey;
Obsolete too: still felling the two-hundred-year-old tree when the bear and
the wild honey were gone and there was nothing in it any more but a raccoon
or a possum whose hide was worth at the most two dollars, turning.the earth
into a howling waste from which he would be the first to vanish, not even on
the heels but synchronous with the slightly darker wild men whom he had
dispossessed, because, like them, only the wilderness could feed and nourish
him; and so disappeared, strutted his roaring eupeptic hour, and was no
more, leaving his ghost, pariah and proscribed, scriptureless now and armed
only with the highwayman's, the murderer's, pistol, haunting the fringes of
the wilderness which he himself had helped to destroy, because the river
towns marched now recessional south by south along the processional bluffs:
St. Louis, Paducah, Memphis, Helena, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge, peo-
pled by men with mouths full of law, in broadcloth and flowered waistcoats,
who owned Negro slaves and Empire beds and buhl cabinets and ormolu clocks,
who strolled and smoked their cigars along the bluffs beneath which in the
shanty and flatboat purlieus he rioted out the last of his doomed evening,
losing his worthless life again and again to the fierce knives of his
drunken and worthless kind-this in the intervals of being pursued and
harried in his vanishing avatars of Harpe and Hare and Mason and Murrel,
either shot on sight or hoicked, dragged out of what remained of his secret
wilderness haunts along the overland Natchez trace (one day someone brought
a curious seed into the land and inserted it into the earth, and now vast
fields of white not only covered the waste places which with his wanton and
heedless axe he bad made, but were effacing, thrusting back the wilderness
even faster than he had been able to, so that he barely had a screen for his
back when, crouched in his thicket, he glared at his dispossessor in
impotent and incredulous and uncomprehending rage) into the towns to his
formal apothesis in a courtroom and then a gallows or the limb of a tree;
236 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Because those days were gone, the old brave innocent tumultuous eupeptic
tomorrowless days; the last broadhorn and keelboat (Mike Fink was a legend;
soon even the grandfathers would no longer claim to remember him, and the
river hero was now the steamboat gambler wading ashore in his draggled
finery from the towhead where the captain had marooned him) had been sold
piecemeal for firewood in Chartres and Toulouse and Dauphine street, and
Choctaw and Chickasaw braves, in short hair and overalls and armed with
mule-whips in place of war-clubs and already packed up to move west to
Oklahoma, watched steamboats furrowing even the shallowest and remotest
wilderness streams where tumbled gently to the motion of the paddle-wheels,
the gutted rock-weighted bones of Hare's and Mason's murderees; a new time,
a new age, millennium's beginning; one vast single net of commerce webbed
and veined the mid-continent's fluvial embracement; New Orleans, Pittsburgh,
and Fort Bridger, Wyoming, were suburbs one to the other, inextricable in
destiny; men's mouths were full of law and order, all men's mouths were
round with the sound of money; one unanimous golden affirmation ululated the
nation's boundless immeasurable forenoon: profit plus regimen equals
security: a nation of commonwealths; that crumb, that dome, that gilded
pustule, that Idea risen now, suspended like a balloon or a portent or a
thundercloud above what used to be wilderness, drawing, holding the eyes of
all: Mississippi: a state, a commonwealth; triumvirate in legislative,
judiciary, executive, but without a capital, functioning as though from a
field headquarters, operating as though still en route toward that high
inevitable place in the galaxy of commonwealths, so in 1820 from its field
p.c. at Columbia the legislature selected appointed and dispatched the three
Commissioners Hinds, Lattimore and Patton, not three politicians and less
than any three political time-servers but soldiers engineers and
patriots-soldier to cope with the reality, engineer to cope with the
aspiration, patriot to hold fast to the dream-three white men in a Choctaw
pirogue moving slowly up the empty reaches of a wilderness river as two
centuries ago the three Frenchmen had drifted in their Northern birchbark
down that vaster and emptier one;
But not drifting, these: paddling: because this was upstream, bearing not
volitionless into the unknown mystery and authority, but establishing in the
wilderness a point for men to rally to in conscience and free will,
scanning, watching the dense inscrutable banks in their turn too, conscious
of the alien incorrigible eyes too perhaps but already rejectant of them,
not that the wilderness's dark denizens, already dispossessed at
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 237
Doak's Stand, were less inveterate now, but because this canoe bore not
the meek and bloody cross of Christ and Saint Louis, but the scales the
blindfold and the sword-up the river to Le Fleur's Bh_iff, the
trading-post store on the high mild promontory established by the Canadian
voyageur, whose name, called and spelled 'Leflore' now, would be borne by
the half-French half-Choctaw hereditary first chief of the Choctaw nation
who, siding with the white men at the Council of Dancing Rabbit, would
remain in Mississi:3pi after his people departed for the west, to become
in time among the first of the great slave-holding cotton planters and
leave behind him a county and its seat named for himself and a plantation
named in honor of a French king's mist ress-stopp ing at last though still
paddling slowly to hold the pirogue against the current, looking not up
at the dark dispossessed faces watching them from the top of the bluff,
but looking staring rather from one to another among themselves in the
transfixed boat, saying, 'This is the city. This is the State';
1821, General Hinds and his co-commissioners, with Abraham DeFrance,
su.)erintendent of public buildings at Washington, to advise them, laid
out the city according to Thomas Jefferson's plan to Territorial Governor
Claiborne seventeen years ago, and built the statehouse, thirty by forty
feet of brick and clay and native limestone yet large enough to contain
the dream; the first legislature convened in it in the new year 1822;
And named the city after the other old hero, hero Hinds' brother-in-arms
on beaten British and Seminole fields and presently to be President-the
old duellist, the brawling lean fierce mangy durable old lion who set the
well-being of the Nation above the White House, and the thealth of his new
political party above either, and above them all set, not his wife's
honor, but the principle that honor must be defended whether it was or not
since, defended, it was, whether or not; -Jackson, that the new city
created not for a city but a central point for the governance of men,
might partake of the successful soldier's courage and endurance and luck,
and named the area surrounding it 'Hinds County' after the lesser hero,
as the hero's quarters, even empty, not only partake of his dignity but
even guard and increase its stature;
And needed them, the luck at least: in 1829 the Senate passed a bill
authoris*nq the removal of the capital to Clinton, the House defeated it;
in 1830 the House itself voted to move to Port Gibson on the Mississippi,
but with the next breath reconsidered, reneged, the following day they
voted to move to
238 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Vicksburg but nothing came of that either, no records (Sherman burned them
in 1863 and notified his superior, General Grant, by note of hand with
comfortable and encouraging brevity.) to show just what happened this time:
a trial, a dry run perhaps or perhaps still enchannelled by a week's or a
month's rut of habit or perhaps innocent of juvenility, absent or anyway
missing the unanimous voice or presence of the three patriot-dreamers who
forced the current and bore the dream, like a child with dynamite: innocent
of its own power for alteration: until in 1832, perhaps in simple
self-defense or perhaps in simple weariness, a constitution was written
designating Jackson as the capital if not in perpetuity at least in escrow
until 1850, when (hoped perhaps) a maturer legislature would be composed of
maturer men outgrown or anyway become used to the novelty of manipulation;
Which by that time was enough; Jackson was secure, impregnable to simple
toyment; fixed and founded strong, it would endure always; men had come
there to live and the railroads had followed them, crossing off with steel
cancellations the age of the steamboat: in '36 to Vicksburg, in '37 to
Natchez, then last of all the junction of two giving a route from New
Orleans to Tennessee and the Southern railroad to New York and the Atlantic
ocean; secure and fixed: in 1836 Old Hickory himself addressed the
legislature in its own halls, five years later Henry Clay was entertained
under the roof; it knew the convention called to consider Clay's last
compromise, it saw that Convention in 1861 which declared Mississippi to be
the third star in that new galaxy of commonwealths dedicated to the
principle that voluntary communities of men shall be not just safe but even
secured from Federal meddling, and knew General Pemberton while defending
that principle and right, and Joseph Johnston: and Sherman: and fire: and
nothing remained, a City of Chimneys (once pigs rooted in the streets; now
rats did) ruled over by a general of the United States army while the new
blood poured in: men who had followed, pressed close the Federal field
armies with spoiled grain and tainted meat and spavined mules, now pressing
close the Federal provost-marshals with carpet bags stuffed with blank bal-
lot-forms on which freed slaves could mark their formal X's;
But endured; the government, which fled before Sherman in 1863, returned in
'65, and even grew too despite the fact that a city government of
carpet-baggers held on long after the State as a whole had dispossessed
them; in 1869 Tougaloo College for Negroes was founded, in 1884 Jackson
College for Negroes was brought from Natchez, in 1898 Campbell College for
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 239
Negroes removed from Vicksburg; Negro leaders developed by these schools
intervened when in 1868 one 'Buzzard' Egglestone instigated the use of
troops to drive Governor Humphries from the executive offices and mansion;
in 1887 Jackson women sponsored the Kermis Ball lasting three days to
raise money for a monument to the Confederate dead; in 1884 Jefferson
Davis spoke for his last time in public at the old Capitol; in 1890 the
state's greatest convention drew up the present constitution;
And still the people and the railroads: the New Orleans and Great Northern
down the Pearl River valley, the Gulf Mobile and Northern northeast;
Alabama and the eastern black prairies were almost a commuter's leap and
a line to Yazoo City and the upper river towns made of the Great Lakes
five suburban ponds; the Gulf and Ship Island opened the south Mississippi
lumber boom and Chicago voices spoke among the magnolias and the odor of
jasmine and oleander; population doubled and trebled in a decade, in 1892
Millsaps College opened its doors to assume its place among the first
establishments for higher learning; then the natural gas and the oil,
Texas and Oklahoma license plates flitted like a migration of birds about
the land and the tall flames from the vent-pipes stood like incandescent
plumes above the century-cold ashes of Choctaw camp-fires and the vanished
imprint of deer; and in 1903.the new Capitol was completed-the golden
dome, the knob, the gleamy crumb, the gilded pustule longer than the
miasma and the gigantic ephemeral saurians, more durable than the ice and
the pre-night cold, soaring, hanging as one blinding spheroid above the
center of the Commonwealth, incapable of being either looked full or
evaded, peremptory, irrefragible, and reassuring.
In the roster of Mississippi names: Claiborne. Humphries. Dickson.
McLaurin. Barksdale. Lamar. Prentiss. Davis. Sartoris. Compson;
In the roster of cities:
JACKSON. Alt, 294 ft. Pop. (A.D.1950) 201,092.
Railroads: Illinois Central, Yazoo & Mississippi Valley, Alabama & Vicksburg,
Gulf & Ship Island.
Bus: Tri-State Transit, Vanardo, Thomas, Greyhound, DixieGreyhound, Tech e-Gr
Air: Delta, Chicago & Southern.
Transport: Street buses, Taxis.
Accommodations: Hotels, Tourist camps, Rooming houses. Radio: WJDX, WTJS.
240 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Diversions- chronic: S.I.A.A., Basketball Tournament, Music Festival, Junior
Auxiliary Follies, May Day Festival, State Tennis Tournament, Red Cross
Water Pageant, State Fair, Junior Auxiliary Style Show, Girl Scouts Horse
Show, Feast of Carols.
Diversions: acute: Religion, Politics.
Office of the Governor of the State. 2:00 A.M. March twelfth.
The whole bottom of the stage is in darkness, as in Scene I, Act One, so
that the visible scene has the effect of being held in the beam of a
spotlight. Suspended too, since it is upper left and even higher above the
shadow of the stage proper than the pme in Scene 1, Act One, carrying still
further the symbolism of the still higher, the last, the ultimate seat of
It is a corner or section of the office of the Governor of the Commonwealth,
late at night, about two A.m.-a clock on the wall says two minutes past
two-, a massive flat-topped desk bare except for an ashtray and a telephone,
behind it a highbacked heavy chair like a throne; on the wall behind and
above the chair, is the emblem, official badge, of the State, sovereignty (a
mythical one, since this is rather the State of which Yoknapatawpha County
is a unit)-an eagle, the blind scales of justice, a device in Latin perhaps,
against a flag. There are two other chairs in front of the desk, turned
slightly to face each other, the length of the desk between them.
The Governor stands in front of the high chair, between it and the desk,
beneath the emblem on the wall. He is symbolic too: no known person, neither
old nor young; he might be someone's idea not of God but of Gabriel perhaps,
the Gabriel not before the Crucifixion but after it. He has obviously just
been routed out of bed or at least out of his study or dressingroom; he
wears a dressing gown, though there is a collar and tie beneath it, and his
hair is neatly combed.
Temple and Stevens have just entered. Temple wears the same fur coat, hat,
bag, gloves etc. as in Act One, Scene 11, Stevens is dressed exactly as he
was in Scene 111, Act One, is carrying his hat. They are moving toward the
two chairs at either end of the desk.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 241
Good morning, Henry. Here we are.
Yes. Sit down. (as Temple sits down) Does Mrs Stevens smoke?
Yes. Thank you.
He takes a pack of cigarettes from his topcoat pocket, as though he had come
prepared for the need, emergency. He works one of them free and extends the
pack to Temple. The Governor puts one hand into his dressing-gown pocket and
withdraws it, holding something in his closed fist.
(takes the cigarette) What, no blindfold?
(the Governor extends his hand across the desk. It contains
a lighter. Temple puts the cigarette into her mouth. The
Governor snaps on the lighter)
But of course, the only one waiting execution is back there in
Jefferson. So all we need to do here is fire away, and hope that at
least the volley rids us of the metaphor.
The blindfold. The firing squad. Or is metaphor wrong? Or maybe it's the
joke. But dont apologise; a joke that has to be diagrammed is like
trying to excuse an egg, isn't it? The only thing you can do is, bury
them both, quick.
(the Governor approaches the flame to Temple's cigarette.
She leans and accepts the light, then sits back)
The Governor closes the lighter, sits down in the tall chair behind the
desk, still holding the lighter in his hand, his hands resting on the desk
before him. Stevens sits down in the other chair across from Temple, laying
the pack of cigarettes on the desk beside him.
242 WILLIAM FAULKNER
What has Mrs Gowan Stevens to tell me?
Not tell you: ask you. No, that's wrong. I could have
asked you to revoke or commute or whatever you do
to a sentence to hang when we-Uncle Gavin tele
phoned you last night.
Go on. Tell him. Aren't you the mouthpiece?-isn't that how you say it?
Dont lawyers always tell their patients-1 mean clients-never to say
anything at all: to let them do all the talking?
That's only before the client enters the witness stand.
So this is the witness stand.
You have come all the way here from Jefferson at two o'clock in the
morning. What would you call it?
All right. Touchg then. But not Mrs Gowan Stevens: Temple Drake. You
remember Temple: the allMississippi debutante whose finishing school
was the Memphis sporting house? About eight years ago, remember? Not
that anyone, certainly not the sovereign state of Mississippi's first
paid servant, need be reminded of that, provided they could read
newspapers eight years ago or were kin to somebody who could read
eight years ago or even had a friend who could or even just hear or
even just remember or just believe the worst or even just hope for it.
I think I remember. What has Temple Drake to tell me then?
That's not first. The first thing is, how much will I have to tell? I
mean, how much of it that you don't already know, so that I wont be
wasting all of our times telling it over? It's two o'clock in the
morning; you want to-maybe even need to-sleep some, even if you are
our first paid servant; maybe even because of that- You see? I'm
already lying. What does it matter to me how much sleep the state's
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 243
servant loses, any more than it matters to the first paid servant, a part of
whose job is being paid to lose sleep over the Nancy Mannigoes and Temple
All right. Stalling, then. So maybe if his excellency or his honor or
whatever they call him, will answer the question, we can get on.
Why not let the question go, and just get on?
Ask me your question. How much of what do I al
(after a moment: she doesn't answer at first, staring at the Gov-
Uncle Gavin's right. Maybe you are the one to ask the questions. Only, make
it as painicss as possible. Because it's going to be a little . . . painful,
to put it euphoniously-at least 'euphonious' is right, isn't it?-no matter
who bragged about blindfolds.
Tell me about Nancy-Mannihoe, Mannikoe-how does she spell it?
She doesn't. She cant. She cant read or write either. You are hanging her
under Mannigoe, which may be wrong too, though after tomorrow morning it
Ob yes, Manigault. The old Charleston name.
Older than that. Maingault. Nancy's heritage-or
anyway her patronym-runs Norman blood.
Why not start by telling me about her?
You are so wise. She was a dope-fiend whore that my
244 WILLIAM FAULKNER
husband and I took out of the gutter to nurse our children. She murdered
one of them and is to be hung tomorrow morning. We-her lawyer and I-have
come to ask you to save her.
Yes. I know all that. Why?
Why am 1, the mother whose child she murdered, asking you to save her?
Because I have forgiven her.
(the Governor watches her, he and Stevens both do, waiting. She stares
back at the Governor steadily, not defiant: just alert) Because she was
(the Governor watches her: she stares back, puffing rapidly
at the cigarette)
All right. You dont mean why I am asking you to save her, but why 1-we
hired a whore and a tramp and a dopefiend to nurse our children.
(she puffs rapidly, talking
through the smoke)
To give her another chance-a human being too, even a nigger dopefiend
Nor that, either.
(rapidly, with a sort of despair) Oh yes, not even stalling
now. Why cant you stop lying? You know: just stop for a
while or a time like you can stop playing tennis or running
or dancing or drinking or eating sweets during Lent. You
know: not to reform: just to quit for a while, clear your
system, rest up for a new tune or set or lie? All right. It
was to have someone to talk to. And now you see? I'll have
to tell the rest of it in order to tell you why I had to
have a dopefiend whore to talk to, why Temple Drake, the
white woman, the all-Mississippi debutante, descendant of
long lines of statesmen and soldiers high and proud in the
high proud annals of our sovereign state, couldn't find
anybody except a nigger dopefiend whore that could speak her
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 245
Yes. This far, this late at night. Tell it.
(she puffs rapidly at the cigarette, leans and crushes it
out in the ashtray and sits erect again. She speaks in a
hard rapid brittle emotionless voice)
Whore, dopefiend; hopeless, already damned before she was ever born,
whose only reason for living was to get the chance to die a murderess
on the gallows.Who not only entered the home of the socialite Gowan
Stevenses out of the gutter, but made her debut into the public life
of her native city while lying in the gutter with a white man trying
to kick her teeth or at least her voice back down her throat.You
remember, Gavin: what was his name? it was before my time in
Jefferson, but you remember: the cashier in the bank, the pillar of
the church or anyway in the name of his childless wife; and this Mon-
day morning and still drunk, Nancy comes up while he is unlocking the
front door of the bank and fifty people standing at his back to get
in, and Nancy comes into the crowd and right up to him and says,
'Where's my two dollars, white man?' and he turned and struck her,
knocked her across the pavement into the gutter and then ran after
her, stomping and kicking at her face or anyway her voice which was
still saying 'Where's my two dollars, white man?' until the crowd
caught and held him still kicking at the face lying in the gutter,
spitting blood and teeth and still saying, 'It was two dollars more
than two weeks ago and you done been back twice since'-
She stops speaking, presses both hands to her face for an instant, then
No, no handkerchief; Lawyer Stevens and I made a dry run on
handkerchiefs before we left home tonight. Where was I?
(quotes her) 'It was already two dollars'- 246 WILLIAM FAULKNER
So now I've got to tell all of it. Because that was just Nancy Mannigoe.
Temple Drake was in more than just a two-dollar Saturday-night house. But
then, I said touch~, didn't I?
She leans forward and starts to take up the crushed cigarette from the
ashtray. Stevens picks up the pack from the desk and prepares to offer it to
her. She withdraws her hand from the crushed cigarette and sits back.
(to the proffered cigarette in Stevens' hand) No, thanks; I wont need it,
after all. From here out, it's merely anticlimax. Coup de grace. The
victim never feels that, does he?-Where was I?
(quickly) Never mind. I said that before too, didn't I?
(she sits for a moment, her hands gripped in her lap, motionless) There
seems to be some of this, quite a lot of this, which even our first paid
servant is not up on; maybe because he has been our first paid servant
for less than two years yet. Though that's wrong too; he could read eight
years ago, couldn't he? In fact, he couldn't have been elected Governor
of even Mississippi if he hadn't been able to read at least three years
in advance, could he?
(to Stevens) Why not? It's just stalling, isn't it?
(watching Temple) Hush, Gavin.
Coup de grace not only means mercy, but is. Deliver it. Give her the
(sits forward again) No, thanks. Really.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 247
(after a second) Sorry.
You'll notice, I always remember to say that, always remember my
manners,-'raising' as we put it. Showing that I really sprang from
gentlefolks, not Norman knights like Nancy did, but at least people who
don't insult the host in his own house, especially at two o'clock in the
morning. Only, I just sprang too far, where Nancy merely stumbled modestly:
a lady again, you see.
(after a moment)
There again. I'm not even stalling now: I'm faulting -what do they call it?
burking. You know: here we are at the fence again; we've got to jump it this
time, or crash. You know: slack the snaffle, let her mouth it a little, take
hold, a light hold, just enough to have something to jump against; then
touch her. So here we are, right back where we started, and so we can start
over. So how much will I have to tell, say, speak out loud so that anybody
with ears can hear it, about Temple Drake that I never thought that anything
on earth, least of all the murder of my child and the execution of Li nigger
do efiend whore, would ever make me tell? That I came here at two o'clock in
the morning to wake you up to listen to, after eight years of being safe or
at least quiet? You know: how much will I have to tell, to make it good and
painful of course, but quick too, so that you can revoke or commute the
sentence or whatever you do to it, and we can all go back home to sleep or
at least to bed? Painful of course, but just painful enough-l think you said
'euphoniously' was right, didn't you?
Death is painful. A shameful one, even more sowhich is not too euphonious,
even at best.
Oh, death. We're not talking about death now, We're talking about shame.
Nancy Mannigoe has no shame; all she has is, to die. But touchi for me too;
haven't I brought Temple Drake all the way here at two o'clock in the
mornim, for the reason that all Nancy Mannigoe has, is to die?
STEVENS Tell him, then.
248 WILLIAM FAULKNER
He hasn't answered my question yet.
Try to answer it. How much will I have to tell? Don't just say
'everything.' I've already heard that.
I know who Temple Drake was: the young woman student at the University
eight years ago who left the school one morning on a special train of
students to attend a baseball game at another college, and disappeared
from the train somewhere during its run, and vanished, nobody knew
where, until she reappeared six weeks later as a witness in a murder
trial in Jefferson, produced by the lawyer of the man who, it was then
learned, had abducted her and held her prisoner-
-in the Memphis sporting house: don't forget that.
-in order to produce her to prove his alibi in the murder-
-that Temple Drake knew had done the murder for the very good reason
Wait. Let me play too. She got off the train at the instigation of a
young man who met the train at an intermediate stop with an
automobile, the plan being to drive on to the ball game in the car,
except that the young man was drunk at the time and got drunker, and
wrecked the car and stranded both of them at the moonshiner's house
where the murder happened, and from which the murderer kidnapped her
and carried her to Memphis, to hold her until he would need his alibi.
Afterward he-the young man with the automobile, her escort and
protector at the moment of the abduction-married her. He is her
husband now. He is my nephew.
(to Stevens, bitterly)
You too. So wise too. Why cant you believe in truth? At least that I'm
trying to tell it. At least trying now to tell it.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 249
(to Governor) Where was I?
That Temple Drake knew had done the murder for the very good reason
Oh yes. -for the very good reason that she saw him do it, or at least his
shadow: and so produced by his lawyer in the Jefferson courtroom so that
she could swear away the life of the man who was accused of it. Oh yes,
that's the one. And now I've already told you something you nor nobody
else but the Memphis lawyer knew, and I haven't even started. You see? I
cant even bargain with you. You haven't even said yes or no yet, whether
you can save her or not, whether you want to save her or not, will
consider saving her or not; which, if either of us, Temple Drake or Mrs
Gowan Stevens either, had any sense, would have demanded first of you.
Do you want to ask me that first?
I cant. I dont dare. You might say no.
Then you wouldn't have to tell me about Temple Drake.
I've got to do that. I've got to say it all, or I wouldn't be here. But
unless I can still believe that you might say yes, I dont see how I can.
Which is another touch~ for somebody: God, maybe-if there is one. You see?
That's what's so terrible. We dont even need Him. Simple evil is enough.
Even after eight years, it's still enough. it was eight years ago that
Uncle Gavin said-oh yes, he was there too; didn't you just hear him? He
could have told you all of this or anyway most of it over the telephone
and you could be in bed asleep right this minute-said how there is a
corruption even in just looking at evil, even by accident; that you can't
haggle, traffic, with putrefaction-you cant, you dont dare-
(she stops, tense, motionless)
250 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Take the cigarette now.
(to Stevens) Gavin-
(Stevens takes up the pack and
prepares to offer the cigarette)
No, thanks. It's too late now. Because here we go. If we cant jump the
fence, we can at least break through it-
Which means that anyway one of us will get over standing up.
(as Temple reacts)
Oh yes, I'm still playing; I'm going to ride this one too. Go ahead.
(prompting) Temple Drake-
-Temple Drake, the foolish virgin; that is, a virgin as far as anybody
went on record to disprove, but a fool certainly by anybody's standards
and computation; seventeen, and more of a fool than simply being a virgin
or even being seventeen could excuse or account for; indeed, showing
herself capable of a height of folly which even seven or three, let alone
mere virginity, could scarcely have matched-
Give the brute a chance. Try at least to ride him at the fence and not
just through it.
You mean the Virginia gentleman.
That's my husband. He went to the University of Virginia, trained, Uncle
Gavin would say, at Virginia not only in drinking but in gentility
-and ran out of both at the same instant that day eight years ago when
he took her off the train and wrecked the car at the moonshiner's house.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 251
But relapsed into one of them at least because at
least he married me as soon as he could.
You dont mind my telling his excellency that, do
A relapse into both of them. He hasn't had a drink since that day either.
His excellency might bear that in mind too.
I will. I have.
(he makes just enough of a pause to cause them both to stop and
look at him)
I almost wish-
(they are both watching him; this is the first intimation we
have that something is going on here, an undercurrent: that the
Governor and Stevens know something which Temple doesn't: to
He didn't come with you.
(mildly yet quickly)
Wont there be time for that later, Henry?
(quick, defiant, suspicious, hard)
(quick and hard)
You have come here to plead for the life of the mur
deress of your child. Your husband was its parent too.
You're wrong. We didn't come here at two o'clock in
the morning to save Nancy Mannigoe. Nancy Man
nigoe is not even concerned in this because Nancy
252 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Mannigoe's lawyer told me before we ever left Jefferson that you were not
going to save Nancy Mannigoe. What we came here and waked you up at two
o'clock in the morning for is just to give Temple Drake a good fair
honest chance to suffer-you know: just anguish for the sake of anguish,
like that Russian or somebody who wrote a whole book about suffering, not
suffering for or about anything, just suffering, like somebody
unconscious not really breathing for anything but just breathing. Or
maybe that's wrong too and nobody really cares, suffers, any more about
suffering than they do about truth or justice or Temple Drake's shame or
Nancy Mannigoe's worthless nigger life-
She stops speaking, sitting quite still, erect in the chair, her face raised
slightly, not looking at either of them while they watch her.
Give her the handkerchief now.
Stevens takes a fresh handkerchief from his pocket, shakes it out and
extends it toward Temple. She does not move, her hands still clasped in her
lap. Stevens rises, crosses, drops the handkerchief into her lap, returns to
Thanks really. But it doesn't matter now; we're too near the end; you
could almost go on down to the car and start it and have the engine
warming up while I finish.
You see? All you'll have to do now is just be still and listen. Or not
even listen if you dont want to: but just be still, just wait. And not
long either now, and then we can all go to bed and turn off the light.
And then, night: dark: sleep even maybe, when with the same arm you turn
off the light and pull the covers up with, you can put away forever
Temple Drake and whatever it is you have done about her, and Nancy
Mannigoe and whatever it is you have done about her, if you're going to
do anything, if it even matters anyhow whether you do anything or not,
and none of it will ever have to bother us any more. Because Uncle Gavin
was only partly right. It's not that you must never even look on evil and
corruption; sometimes you cant help that, you are not always
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 253
warned. It's not even that you must resist it always. Because you've
got to start much sooner than that. You've got to be already prepared
to resist it, say no to it, long before you see it; you must have
already said no to it long before you even know what it is. I'll have
the cigarette now, please.
Stevens takes up the pack, rising and working the end of a cigarette free,
and extends the pack. She takes the cigarette, already speaking again
while Stevens puts the pack on the desk and takes up the lighter which the
Governor, watching Temple, shoves back across the desk where Stevens can
reach it. Stevens snaps the lighter on and holds it out. Temple makes no
effort to light the cigarette, holding the cigarette in her hand and
talking. Then she lays the cigarette unlighted on the ashtray and Stevens
closes the lighter and sits down again, putting the lighter down beside
the pack of cigarettes.
Because Temple Drake liked evil. She only went to the ball game
because she would have to get on a train to do it, so that she could
slip off the train the first time it stopped, and get into the car to
drive a hundred miles with a man-
-who couldn't hold his drink.
(to Stevens) All right. Aren't I just saying that?
An optimist. Not the young man; he was just doing the best he knew,
could. It wasn't him that suggested the trip: it was Temple-
It was his car though. Or his mother's.
(to Stevens) All right. All right.
No, Temple was the optimist: not that she had foreseen, planned ahead
either: she just had unbounded faith that her father and brothers
would know evil when they saw it, so all she had to do was, do the one
thing which she knew they would forbid her to do if
254 WILLIAM FAULKNER
they had the chance. And they were right about the evil, and so of course
she was right too, though even then it was not easy: she even had to
drive the car for a while after we began to realize that the young man
was wrong, had graduated too soon in the drinking part of his Virginia
It was Gowan who knew the moonshiner and insisted on going there.
-and even then-
He was driving when you wrecked.
(to Stevens: quick and harsh)
And married me for it. Does he have to pay for it twice? It wasn't really
worth paying for once, was it?
And even then-
How much was it worth?
Was what worth?
His marrying you.
You mean to him, of course. Less than he paid for it.
Is that what he thinks too?
(they stare at one another, Temple alert, quite watchful, though rather
impatient than anything else) You're going to tell me something that he
doesn't know, else you would have brought him with you. Is that right?
GOVERNOR Would you tell it if he were here?
(Temple is staring at the Gover- REQUIEM FOR A NUN 255
nor. Unnoticed by her, Stevens makes a faint movement. The
Governor stops him with a slight motion of one hand which also
Temple does not notice)
Now that you have come this far, now that, as you said, you have got to
tell it, say it aloud, not to save Nan-this woman, but because you decided
before you left home tonight that there is nothing else to do but tell it.
How do I know whether I would or not?
Suppose he was here-sitting in that chair where Gav
-your uncle is-
-or behind the door or in one of your desk drawers, maybe? He's not. He's
at home. I gave him a sleeping pill.
But suppose he was, now that you have got to say it. Would you still say
All right. Yes. Now will you please shut up too and let me tell it? How
can 1, if you and Gavin wont hush and let me? I cant even remember where
I was.-Oh yes. So I saw the murder, or anyway the shadow of it, and the
man took me to Memphis, and I know that too, I had two legs and I could
see, and I could have simply screamed up the main street of any of the
little towns we passed, just as I could have walked away from the car
after Gow-we ran it into the tree, and stopped a wagon or a car which
would have carried me to the nearest town or railroad station or even back
to school or, for that matter, right on back home into my father's or
brothers' hands. But not me, not Temple. I chose the murderer-
He was a psychopath, though that didn't come out in the trial, and when
it did come out, or could have come out, it was too late. I was there; I
saw that too: a little black thing with an Italian
256 WILLIAM FAULKNER
name, like a neat and only slightly deformed cockroach: a hybrid,
sexually incapable. But then, she will tell you that too.
(with bitter sarcasm) Dear Uncle Gavin.
Oh yes, that too, her bad luck too: to plump for a thing which didn't
even have sex for his weakness, but just murder-
(she stops, sitting motionless, erect, her hands clenched on
her lap, her eyes closed)
If you both would just hush, just let me. I seem to be like trying to
drive a hen into a barrel. Maybe if you would just try to act like you
wanted to keep her out of it, from going into it-
Dont call it a barrel. Call it a tunnel. That's a thoroughfare, because
the other end is open too. Go through with it. There was no-sex.
Not from him. He was worse than a father or uncle. It was worse than
being the wealthy ward of the most indulgent trust or insurance company:
carried to Memphis and shut up in that Manuel Street sporting house like
a ten-year-old bride in a Spanish convent, with the madam herself more
eagle-eyed than any mama-and the Negro maid to guard the door while the
madam would be out, to wherever she would go, wherever the madams of cat
houses go on their afternoons out, to pay police-court fines or
protection or to the bank or maybe just visiting, which would not be so
bad because the maid would unlock the door and come inside and we
(she falters, pauses for less than a second; then quickly)
Yes, that's why-talk. A prisoner of course, and maybe not in a very
gilded cage, but at least the prisoner was. I had perfume by the quart;
some salesgirl chose it of course, and it was the wrong kind, but at
least I had it, and he bought me a fur coat-with nowhere to wear it of
course because he wouldn't let me out, but I had the coat-and snazzy
underwear and negligees, selected also by salesgirls but at least the
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 257
or anyway the most expensive-the taste at least of the big end of an
underworld big shot's wallet. Because he wanted me to be contented,
you see; and not only contented, he didn't even mind if I was happy
too: just so I was there when or in case the police finally connected
him with that Mississippi murder; not only didn't mind if I was happy;
he even made the effort himself to see that I was. And so at last we
have come to it, because now I have got to tell you this too to give
you a valid reason why I waked you up at two in the morning to ask you
to save a murderess.
She stops speaking, reaches and takes the unlighted cigarette from the
tray, then realises it is unlit. Stevens takes up the lighter from the
desk and starts to get up. Still watching Temple, the Governor makes to
Stevens a slight arresting signal with his hand. Stevens pauses, then
pushes the lighter along the desk to where Temple can reach it, and sits
back down. Temple takes the lighter, snaps it on, lights the cigarette,
closes the lighter and puts it back on the desk. But after only one puff
at the cigarette, she lays it back on the tray and sits again as before,
Because I still had the two arms and legs and eyes; I could have
climbed down the rainspout at any time, the only difference being that
I didn't, I would never leave the room except late at night, when he
would come in a closed car the size of an undertaker's wagon, and he
and the chauffeur on the front seat, and me and the madam in the back,
rushing at forty and fifty and sixty miles an hour up and down the
back alleys of the redlight district. Which-the back alleys -was all
I ever saw of them too. I was not even permitted to meet or visit with
or even see the other girls in my own house, not even to sit with them
after work and listen to the shop talk while they counted their chips
or blisters or whatever they would do sitting on one another's beds
in the elected dormitory....
(she pauses again, continues in a sort of surprise,
Yes, it was like the dormitory at school: the smell: of women, young
women all busy thinking not about men but just man: only a little
stronger, a little calmer, less excited-sitting on the temporarily
idle beds discussing the exigencies-th at's surely the right one,
258 WILLIAM FAULKNER
isn't it?-of their trade. But not me, not Temple: shut up in that room
twenty-four hours a day, with nothing to do but hold fashion shows in
the fur coat and the flashy pants and negligees, with nothing to see
it but a two-foot mirror and a Negro maid; hanging bone dry and safe
in the middle of sin and pleasure like being suspended twenty fathoms
deep in an ocean diving bell. Because he wanted her to be contented,
you see. He even made the last effort himself. But Temple didn't want
to be just contented. So she had to do what us sporting girls call
fall in love.
(quickly: to Stevens) Hush.
(to Temple) Hush yourself.
He-Vitelli-they called him Popeye-brought the man there himself.
He-the young man-
Gavin! No, I tell you!
You are drowning in an orgasm of abjectness and moderation when all
you need is truth.
-was known in his own circles as Red, Alabama Red; not to the police,
or not officially, since he was not a criminal, or anyway not yet, but
just a thug, probably cursed more by simple eupepsia than by anything
else. He was a houseman-the bouncer-at the nightclub, joint, on the
outskirts of town, which Popeye owned and which was Popeye's
headquarters. He died shortly afterward in the alley behind Temple's
prison, of a bullet from the same pistol which had done the
Mississippi murder, though Popeye too was dead, hanged in Alabama for
a murder he did not commit, before the pistol was ever found and con-
nected with him.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 259
I see. This-Popeye-
-discovered himself betrayed by one of his own servants, and took a
princely vengeance on his honor's smircher? You will be wrong. You
underrate this precieux, this flower, this jewel. Vitelli. What a name for
him. A hybrid, impotent. He was hanged the next year, to be sure. But even
that was wrong: his very effacement debasing, flouting, even what dignity
man has been able to lend to necessary human abolishment. He should have
been crushed somehow under a vast and mindless boot, like a spider. He
didn't sell her; you violate and outrage his very memory with that crass
and material impugnment. He was a purist, an amateur always: he did not
even murder for base profit. It was not even for simple lust. He was a
gourmet, a sybarite, centuries, perhaps hemispheres before his time; in
spirit and glands he was of that age of princely despots to whom the
ability even to read was vulgar and plebeian and, reclining on silk amid
silken airs and scents, had eunuch slaves for that office, commanding
death to the slave at the end of each reading, each evening, that none
else alive, even a eunuch slave, shall have shared in, partaken of,
remembered, the poem's evocation.
I dont think I understand.
Try to. Uncheck your capacity for rage and revulsion -the sort of rage and
revulsion it takes to step on a worm. If Vitelli cannot evoke that in you,
his life will have been indeed a desert.
Or dont try to. Just let it go. Just for God's sake let it go. I met the
man, how doesn't matter, and I fell what I called in love with him and
what it was or what I called it doesn't matter either because all that
matters is that I wrote the letters-
I see. This is the part that her husband didn't know.
260 WILLIAM FAULKNER
And what does that matter either? Whether he knows or not? What can
another face or two or name or two matter, since he knows that I lived
for six weeks in a Manuel Street brothel? Or another body or two in the
bed? Or three or four? I'm trying to tell it, enough of it. Cant you see
that? But cant you make him let me alone so I can. Make him, for God's
sake, let me alone.
(to Stevens: watching Temple) No more, Gavin.
(to Temple) So you fell in love.
Thank you for that. I mean, the 'love.' Except that I didn't even fall,
I was already there: the bad, the lost: who could have climbed down the
gutter or lightning rod any time and got away, or even simpler than that:
disguised myself as the nigger maid with a stack of towels and a bottle
opener and change for ten dollars, and walked right out the front door.
So I wrote the letters. I would write one each time . . . afterward,
after they-he left, and sometimes I would write two or three when it
would be two or three days between, when they-he wouldn't-
What? What's that?
-you know: something to do, be doing, filling the time, better than the
fashion parades in front of the two-foot glass with nobody to be
disturbed even by the ... pants, or even no pants. Good letters-
Wait. What did you say?
I said they were good letters, even for-
You said, after they left.
(they look at one another. Tem
ple doesn't answer: to Stevens,
though still watching Temple)
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 261
Am I being told that this ... Vitelli would be there in the room too?
Yes, That was why he brought him. You can see now what I meant by
connoisseur and gourmet.
And what you meant by the boot too. But he's dead. You know that.
Oh yes. He's dead. And I said 'purist'too. To the last: hanged the next
summer in Alabama for a murder he didn't even commit and which nobody
involved in the matter really believed he had committed, only not even his
lawyer could persuade him to admit that he couldn't have done it if he
wanted to, or wouldn't have done it if the notion had struck him. Oh yes,
he's dead too; we haven't come here for vengeance.
(to Temple) Yes. Go on. The letters.
The letters. They were good letters. I mean--good ones.
(staring steadily at the Governor) What I'm trying to say is, they were
the kind of letters that if you had written them to a man, even eight
years ago, you wouldn't-would-rather your husband didn't see them, no
matter what he thought about your-past.
(still staring at the Governor as she makes her painful confession) Better
than you would expect from a seventeen-yearold amateur. I mean, you would
have wondered how anybody just seventeen and not even through freshman in
college, could have learned the-right words. Though all you would have
needed probably would be an old dictionary from back in Shakespeare's time
when, so they say, people hadn't learned how to blush at words. That is,
anybody except Temple Drake, who didn't need a dictionary, who was a fast
learner and so even just one lesson would have
262 WILLIAM FAULKNER
been enough for her, let alone three or four or a dozen or two or three
(staring at the Governor)
No, not even one lesson because the bad was already there waiting, who
hadn't even heard yet that you must be already resisting the corruption
not only before you look at it but before you even know what it is, what
you are resisting. So I wrote the letters, I dont know how many, enough,
more than enough because just one would have been enough. And that's all.
Yes. You've certainly heard the blackmail. The letters turned up again
of course. And of course, being Temple Drake, the first way to buy them
back that Temple Drake thought of, was to produce the material for
another set of them.
Yes, that's all. But you've got to tell him why it's all.
I thought I had. I wrote some letters that you would have thought that
even Temple Drake might have been ashamed to put on paper, and then the
man I wrote them to died, and I married another man and reformed, or
thought I had, and bore two children and hired another reformed whore so
that I would have somebody to talk to, and I even thought I had forgotten
about the letters until they turned up again and then I found out that
I not only hadn't forgot about the letters, I hadn't even reformed-
All right. Do you want me to tell it, then?
And you were the one preaching moderation.
I was preaching against orgasms of it.
Oh, I know. Just suffering. Not for anything: just suf- REQUIEM FOR A NUN 263
fering. Just because it's good for you, like calomel or ipecac.
(to Governor) All right. What?
The young man died-
Oh yes.-Died, shot from a car while be was slipping up the alley behind the
house, to climb up the same drainpipe I could have climbed down at any time
and got away, to see me-the one time, the first time, the only time when we
thought we had dodged, fooled him, could be alone together, just the two of
us, after all the . . . other ones.-If love can be, mean anything, except
the newness, the learning, the peace, the privacy: no shame: not even
conscious that you are naked because you are just using the nakedness be-
cause that's a part of it; then he was dead, killed, shot down right in the
middle of thinking about me, when in just one more minute maybe he would
have been in the room with me, when all of him except just his body was
already in the room with me and the door locked at last for just the two of
us alone; and then it was all over and as though it had never been, hap-
pened: it had to be as though it had never happened, except that that was
Then the courtroom in Jefferson and I didn't care, not about anything any
more, and my father and brothers waiting and then the year in Europe, Paris,
and I still didn't care, and then after a while it really did get easier.
You know. People are lucky. They are wonderful. At first you think that you
can bear only so much and then you will be free. Then you find out that you
can bear anything, you really can and then it wont even matter. Because
suddenly it could be as if it had never been, never happened. You know:
somebody-Hemingway, wasn't it?-wrote a book about how it actually happened
to a gir-woman, if she refused to accept it, no matter who remembered,
bragged. And besides, the ones who could-remember-were both dead. Then Gowan
came to Paris that winter and we were married-at the Embassy, with a
reception afterward at the Crillon, and if that couldn't fumigate an
American past, what else this
264 WILLIAM FAULKNER
side of heaven could you hope for to remove stink? Not to mention a
new automobile and a honeymoon in a rented hideaway built for his
European mistress by a Mohammedan prince at Cap Ferrat. Only-
(she pauses, falters, for just an instant, then goes on)
-we-I thought we-I didn't want to efface the stink really-
(rapidly now, tense, erect, her hands gripped again into
fists on her lap)
You know: just the marriage would be enough: not the Embassy and the
Crillon and Cap Ferrat but just to kneel down, the two of us, and say
'We have sinned, forgive us.' And then maybe there would be the love
this time-the peace, the quiet, the no shame that I . . .
didn't-missed that other time-
(falters again, then rapidly again, glib and succinct)
Love, but more than love too: not depending on just love to hold two
people together, make them better than either one would have been
alone, but tragedy, suffering, having suffered and caused grief;
having something to have to live with even when, because you knew both
of you could never forget it. And then I began to believe something
even more than that: that there was something even better, stronger,
than tragedy to hold two people together: forgiveness. Only that
seemed to be wrong. Only maybe it wasn't the forgiveness that was
wrong, but the gratitude; and maybe the only thing worse than having
to give gratitude constantly all the time, is having to accept it-
Which is exactly backward. What was wrong wasn't-
Shut up yourself, Henry. What was wrong wasn't Temple's good name. It
wasn't even her husband's conscience. It was his vanity: the
Virginia-trained aristocrat caught with his gentility around his knees
like the guest in the trick Hollywood bathroom. So the forgiving
wasn't enough for him, or perhaps he hadn't read Hemingway's book.
Because after about a year, his restiveness under the onus of
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 265
gratitude began to take the form of doubting the paternity of their child.
Oh God. Oh God.
(Stevens stops.) No more, I said. Call that an order.
(to Temple) Yes. Tell me.
I'm trying to. I expected our main obstacle in this would be the bereaved
plaintiff. Apparently though it's the defendant's lawyer. I mean, I'm trying
to tell you about one Temple Drake, and our Uncle Gavin is showing you
another one. So already you've got two different people begging for the same
clemency; if everybody concerned keeps on splitting up into two people, you
wont even know who to pardon, will you? And now that I mention it, here we
are, already back to Nancy Mannigoe, and now surely it shouldn't take long.
Let's see, we'd got back to Jefferson too, hadn't we? Anyway, we are now. I
mean, back in Jefferson, back home. You know: face it: the disgrace: the
sbame, face it down, good and down forever, never to haunt us more;
together, a common front to stink because we love each other and have
forgiven all, strong in our love and mutual forgiveness. Besides having
everything else: the Gowan Stevenses, young, popular: a new bungalow on the
right street to start the Saturday-night hangovers in, a country club with
a country-club younger set of rallying friends to make it a Saturday-night
hangover worthy the name of Saturday-night country-club hangover, a pew in
the right church to recover from it in, provided of course they were not too
hungover even to get to church. Then the son and heir came; and now we have
Nancy: nurse: guide: mentor, catalyst, glue, whatever you want to call it,
holding the whole lot of them together-not just a magnetic center for the
heir apparent and the other little princes or princesses in their orderly
succession, to circle around, but for the two bigger hunks too of mass or
matter or dirt or whatever it is shaped in the image of God, in a semblance
at least of order and respecta-
266 WILLIAM FAULKNER
bility and peace; not ole cradle-rocking black mammy at all, because
the Gowan Stevenses are young and modern, so young and modern that all
the other young country-club set applauded when they took an
ex-dopefiend nigger whore out of the gutter to nurse their children,
because the rest of the young countryclub set didn't know that it
wasn't the Gowan Stevenses but Temple Drake who had chosen the ex-
dopefiend nigger whore for the reason that an exdopefiend nigger whore
was the only animal in Jefferson that spoke Temple Drake's language-
(quickly takes up the burning cigarette from the tray and puffs at it,
talking through the puffs) Oh yes, I'm going to tell this too. A
confidante. You know: the big-time ball player, the idol on the pedes-
tal, the worshipped; and the worshipper, the acolyte, the one that
never had and never would, no matter how willing or how hard she
tried, get out of the sandlots, the bush league. You know: the long
afternoons, with the last electric button pressed on the last cooking
or washing or sweeping gadget and the baby safely asleep for a while,
and the two sisters in sin swapping trade or anyway avocational
secrets over Coca-Colas in the quiet kitchen. Somebody to talk to, as
we all seem to need, want, have to have, not to converse with you nor
even agree with you, but just keep quiet and listen. Which is all that
people really want, really need; I mean, to behave themselves, keep
out of one another's hair; the maladjustments which they tell us breed
the arsonists and rapists and murderers and thieves and the rest of
the antisocial enemies, are not really maladjustments but simply
because the embryonic murderers and thieves didn't have anybody to
listen to them: which is an idea the Catholic Church discovered two
thousand years ago only it just didn't carry it far enough or maybe it
was too busy being the Church to have time to bother with man, or
maybe it wasn't the Church's fault at all but simply because it had to
deal with human beings and maybe if the world was just populated with
a kind of creature half of which were dumb, couldn't do anything but
listen, couldn't even escape from having to listen to the other half,
there wouldn't even be any war. Which was what Temple had. somebody
paid by the week just to listen, which you would have thought would
have been enough; and
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 267
then the other baby came, the infant, the doomed sacrifice (though of course
we dont know that yet) and you would have thought that this was surely
enough, that now even Temple Drake would consider herself safe, could be
depended on, having two-what do sailors call them? oh yes,
sheet-anchors-now. Only it wasn't enough. Because Hemingway was right. I
mean, the gir-woman in his book. All you have got to do is, refuse to
accept. Only, you have got to ... refuse
Now, the letters-
(watching Temple) Be quiet, Gavin.
No, I'm going to talk a while now. We'll even stick to the sports metaphor
and call it a relay race, with the senior member of the team carrying the .
. . baton, twig, switch, sapling, tree-whatever you want to call the
symbolical wood, up what remains of the symbolical hill.
(the lights flicker, grow slightly dimmer, then flare back up and
steady again, as though in a signal, a warning)
The letters. The blackmail. The blackmailer was Red's younger brother-a
criminal of course, but at least a man-
Be quiet too. It only goes up a hill, not over a precipice. Besides, it's
only a stick. The letters were not first. The first thing was the gratitude.
And now we have even come to the husband, my nephew. And when I say 'past,'
I mean that part of it which the husband knows so far, which apparently was
enough in his estimation. Because it was not long before she discovered,
realized, that she was going to spend a good part of the rest of her days
(nights too) being forgiven for it; in being not only constantly reminded-
268 WILLIAM FAULKNER
well, maybe not specifically reminded, but say madekept-aware of it in
order to be forgiven for it so that she might be grateful to the
forgiver, but in having to employ more and more of what tact she had-
and the patience which she probably didn't know she had, since until
now she had never occasion to need patience-to make the gratitude-in
which she bad probably had as little experience as she had had with
patience-acceptable to meet with, match, the high standards of the
forgiver. But she was not too concerned. Her husband-my nepbew-had
made what he probably considered the supreme sacrifice to expiate his
part in her past; she had no doubts of her capacity to continue to
supply whatever increasing degree of gratitude the increasing
appetite-or capacity-of its addict would demand, in return for the
sacrifice which, so she believed, she had accepted for the same reason
of gratitude. Besides, she still had the legs and the eyes; she could
walk away, escape, from it at any moment she wished, even though her
past might have shown her that she probably would not use the ability
to locomote to escape from threat and danger. Do you accept that?
All right. Go on.
Then she discovered that the child-the first onewas on the way. For
that first instant, she must have known something almost like frenzy.
Now she couldn't escape; she had waited too long. But it was worse
than that. It was as though she realized for the first time that
you-everyone-must, or anyway may have to, pay for your past; that past
is something like a promissory note with a trick clause in it which,
as long as nothing goes wrong, can be manumitted in an orderly manner,
but which fate or luck or chance, can foreclose on you without
warning. That is, she had known, accepted, this all the time and
dismissed it because she knew that she could cope, was invulnerable
through simple integration, own-womanness. But now there would be a
child, tender and defenseless. But you never really give up hope, you
know, not even after you finally realize that people not only can bear
anything, but probably will have to, so probably even before the
frenzy had had time to fade, she found a
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 269
hope: which was the child's own tender and defenseless innocence: that
God-if there was one-would protect the child-not her: she asked no quarter
and wanted none; she could cope, either cope or bear it, but the child from
the sight draft of her past-because it was innocent, even though she knew
better, all her observation having shown her that God either would not or
could not-anyway, did not-save innocence just because it was innocent; that
when He said 'Suffer little children to come unto Me' He meant exactly that:
He meant suffer; that the adults, the fathers, the old in and capable of
sin, must be ready and willing-nay, eager-to suffer at any time, that the
little children shall come unto Him unanguished, unterrified, undefiled. Do
you accept that?
So at least she had case. Not hope: ease. It was precarious of course, a
balance, but she could walk a tightrope too. It was as though she had
struck, not a barg~!in, but an armistice with God-if there was one. She had
not tried to cheat; she had not tried to evade the promissory note of her
past by intervening the blank check of a child's innocence-it was born now,
a little boy, a son, her husband's son and heir-between. She had not tried
to prevent the child; she had simply never thought about pregnancy in this
connection, since it took the physical fact of the pregnancy to reveal to
her the existence of that promissory note bearing her post-dated signature.
And since God-if there was one-must be aware of that, then she too would
bear her side of the bargain by not demanding on Him a second time since
He-if there was one-would at least play fair, would be at least a gentleman.
So you can take your choice about the second child. Perhaps she was too busy
between the three of them to be careful enough: between the three of them:
the doom, the fate, the past; the bargain with God; the forgiveness and the
gratitude. Like the juggler says,
270 WILLIAM FAULKNER
not with three insentient replaceable Indian clubs or balls, but three
glass bulbs filled with nitroglycerin and not enough hands for one even:
one hand to offer the atonement with and another to receive the
forgiveness with and a third needed to offer the gratitude, and still a
fourth hand more and more imperative as time passed to sprinkle in
steadily and constantly increasing doses a little more and a little more
of the sugar and seasoning on the gratitude to keep it palatable to its
swallower-that perhaps: she just didn't have time to be careful enough,
perhaps it was desperation, or perhaps this was when her husband first
refuted or implied or anyway impugned whichever it was-his son's
paternity. Anyway, she was pregnant again; she had broken her word, de-
stroyed her talisman, and she probably knew fifteen months before the
letters that this was the end, and when the man appeared with the old
letters she probably was not even surprised: she had merely been
wondering for fifteen months what form the doom would take. And accept
lights flicker and dim further, then steady at that point.
And relief too. Because at last it was over; the roof had fallen,
avalanche had roared; even the helplessness and the impotence were
finished now, because now even the old fragility of bone and meat was no
longer a factor-and, who knows? because of that fragility, a kind of
pride, triumph: you have waited for destruction: you endured; it was
inevitable, inescapable, you had no hope. Nevertheless, you did not
merely cringe, crouching, your head, vision, buried in your arms; you
were not watching that poised arrestment all the time, true enough, but
that was not because you feared it but because you were too busy putting
one foot before the other, never for one instant really flagging,
faltering, even though you knew it was in vain-triumph in the very
fragility which no longer need concern you now, for the reason that the
all, the very worst, which catastraphe can do to you, is crush and
obliterate the fragility; you were the better man, you outfaced even
catastrophe, outlasted it, compelled it to move first; you did riot even
defy it, not even contemptuous: with no other tool or implement but that
worthless fragility, you held disaster off as with one hand you
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 271
might support the weightless silken canopy of a bed, for six long years
while it, with all its weight and power, could not possibly prolong the
obliteration of your fragility over five or six seconds; and even during
that five or six seconds you would still be the better man, since all that
it-the catastrophe-could deprive you of, you yourself had already written
off six years ago as being, inherently of and because of its own fragile
GOVERNOR And now, the man.
I thought you would see it too. Even the first one stuck out like a sore
thumb. Yes, he
The first what?
(pauses, looks at the Governor) The first man: Red. Dont you
know anything at all about women? I never saw Red or this next
one, his brother, either, but all three of them, the other two
and her husband, probably all look enough alike or act enough
alike-maybe by simply making enough impossible unfulfillable
demands on her by being drawn to her enough to accept, risk,
almost incredible conditions-to be at least first cousins.
Where have you been all your life?
All right. The man.
At first, all he thought of, planned on, was interested in, intended, was
the money-to collect for the letters, beat it, get the hell out. Of
course, even at the end, all he was really after was still the money, not
only after he found out that he would have to take her and the child too
to get it, but even when it looked like all he was going to get, at least
for a while, was just a runaway wife and a six-months-old infant. In fact,
Nancy's error, her really fatal action on that fatal and tragic night, was
in not giving the money and the jewels both to him when she found where
Temple had hidden them, and getting the letters and getting rid
272 WILLIAM FAULKNER
of him forever, instead of hiding the money and jewels from Temple in her
turn-which was what Temple herself thought too apparently, since she-
Temple-told him a lie about how much the money was, telling him it was
only two hundred dollars when it was actually almost two thousand. So you
would have said that he wanted the money indeed, and just how much, how
badly, to have been willing to pay that price for it. Or maybe he was
being wise, smart,' he would have called it-beyond his years and time,
and without having actually planned it that way, was really inventing a
new and safe method of kidnapping: that is, pick up an adult victim
capable of signing her own checks-also with an infant in arms for added
persuasion-and not forcing but actually persuading her to come along
under her own power and then-still peaceably-extracting the money later
at your leisure, using the tender welfare of the infant as a fulcrum for
your lever. Or maybe we're both wrong and both should give credit-what
little of it-is due, since it was just the money with her too at first,
though he was probably still thinking it was just the money at the very
time when, having got her own jewelry together and found where her
husband kept the key to the strongbox (and I imagine, even opened it one
night after her husband was in bed asleep and counted the money in it or
at least made sure there was money in it or anyway that the key would
actually open it), she found herself still trying to rationalise why she
had not paid over the money and got the letters and destroyed them and
so rid herself forever of her Damocles' roof. Which was what she did not
do. Because Hemingway-his girl-was quite right: all you have got to do
is, refuse to accept it. Only, you have got to be told truthfully
beforehand what you must refuse; the gods owe you that-at least a clear
picture and a clear choice. Not to be fooled by . . . who knows? probably
even gentleness, after a fashion, back there on those afternoons or
whenever they were in the Memphis . . . all right: honeymoon, even with
a witness; in this case certainly anything much better lacked, and
indeed, who knows? (I am Red now) even a little of awe, incredulous
amazement, even a little of trembling at this much fortune, this much
luck dropping out of the very sky itself, into his embrace; at least
(Temple now) no gang: even rape become tender: only one, an indi-
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 273
vidual, still refusable, giving her at least (this time) the
similitude of being wooed, of an opportunity to say Yes first, letting
her even believe she could say either one of yes or no. I imagine that
he (the new one, the blackmailer) even looked like his brother-a
younger Red, the Red of a few years even before she knew him, and-if
you will permit it-less stained, so that in a way it may have seemed
to her that here at last even she might slough away the six years'
soilure of struggle and repentance and terror to no avail. And if this
is what you meant, then you are right too: a man, at least a man,
after six years of that sort of forgiving which debased not only the
forgiven but the forgiven's gratitude too-a bad man of course, a
criminal by intent regardless of bow cramped his opportunities may
have been up to this moment; and, capable of blackmail, vicious and
not merely competent to, but destined to, bring nothing but evil and
disaster and ruin to anyone foolish enough to enter his orbit, cast
her lot with his. Butby comparison, that six years of comparison-at
least a man-a man so single, so hard and ruthless, so impeccable in
amorality, as to have a kind of integrity, purity, who would not only
never need nor intend to forgive anyone anything, he would never even
realise that anyone expected him to forgive anyone anything; who
wouldn't even bother to forgive her if it ever dawned on him that he
had the opportunity, but instead would simply black her eyes and knock
a few teeth out and fling her into the gutter: so that she could rest
secure forever in the knowledge that, until she found herself with a
black eye and or spitting teeth in the gutter, he would never even
know he had anything to forgive her for.
This time, the lights do not flicker. They begin to dim steadily toward
and then into complete darkness as Stevens continues.
Nancy was the confidante, at first, while she-Nancy -still believed
probably that the only problem, factor, was how to raise the money the
blackmailer demanded, without letting the boss, the master, the
husband find out about it; finding, discovering-this is still
Nancy-realising probably that she had not really been a confidante for
a good while, a long while before she discovered that what she
actually was, was a spy: on her employer: not realising until
274 WILLIAM FAULKNER
after she had discovered that, although Temple had taken the money and
the jewels too from her husband's strongbox, she-Temple-still hadn't
paid them over to the blackmailer and got the letters, that the payment
of the money and jewels was less than half of Temple's plan.
The lights go completely out. The stage is in complete darkness. Stevens'
That was when Nancy in her turn found where Temple had hidden the money
and jewels, and-Nancytook them in her turn and hid them from Temple;
this was the night of the day Gowan left for a week's fishing at
Aransas Pass, taking the older child, the boy, with him, to leave the
child for a week's visit with his grandparents in New Orleans until
Gowan would pick them up on his way home from Texas. (to Temple: in the
darkness) Now tell him.
The stage is in complete darkness.
Interior, Temple's private sitting- or dressing-room. 9:30 P.M. June
The lights go up, lower right, as in Act One in the transition from the
Court room to the Stevens living room, though instead of the living room,
the scene is now Temple's private apartment. A door, left, enters from the
house proper. A door, right, leads into the nursery where the child is
asleep in its crib. At rear, french windows open onto a terrace; this is
a private entrance to the house itself from outdoors. At left, a closet
door stands open. Garments are scattered over the floor about it,
indicating that the closet has been searched, not hurriedly so much as
savagely and ruthlessly and thoroughly. At right, is a fireplace of gas
logs. A desk against the rear wall is open and shows traces of the same
savage and ruthless search. A table, center, bears Temple's hat, gloves
and bag, also a bag such as is associated with infants; two bags, obvi-
ously Temple's, are packed and closed and sit on the floor beside the
table. The whole room indicates Temple's imminent departure, and that
something has been vainly yet savagely
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 275
and Completely, perhaps even frantically, searched for.
When the lights go up, Pete is standing in the open closet door, holding a
final garment, a negligee, in his hands. He is about 25. He does not look
like a criminal. That is, he is not a standardised recognisable criminal or
gangster type, quite. He looks almost like the general conception of a
college man, or a successful young automobile or appliance salesman. His
clothes are ordinary, neither flashy nor sharp, simply what everybody
wears. But there is a definite 'untamed' air to him. He is handsome,
attractive to women, not at all unpredictable because you-or they-know
exactly what he will do, you just hope he wont do it this time. He has a
hard, ruthless quality, not immoral but unmoral.
He wears a light-weight summer suit, his hat is shoved onto the back of his
head so that, engaged as he is at present, he looks exactly like a youthful
city detective in a tough moving picture. He is searching the flimsy
negligee, quickly and without gentleness, drops it and turns, finds his
feet entangled in the other garments on the floor and without pausing,
kicks himself free and crosses to the desk and stands looking down at the
litter on it which he has already searched thoroughly and savagely once,
with a sort of bleak and contemptuous disgust.
Temple enters, left. She wears a dark suit for traveling beneath a
lightweight open coat, is hatless, carries the fur coat which we have seen,
and a child's robe or blanket over the same arm, and a filled milk bottle
in the other hand. She pauses long enough to glance at the littered room.
Then she comes on in and approaches the table. Pete turns his head; except
for that, be doesn't move.
No. The people where she lives say they haven't seen her since she left
to come to work this morning.
I could have told you that.
(he glances at his wrist watch)
We've still got time. Where does she live?
(at the table)
And then what? hold a lighted cigarette against the sole of her foot?
276 WILLIAM FAULKNER
It's fifty dollars, even if you are accustomed yourself to thinking
in hundreds. Besides the jewelry. What do you suggest then? call
No. You wont have to run. I'm giving you an out.
No dough, no snatch. Isn't that how you would say it?
Maybe I dont get you.
You can quit now. Clear out. Leave. Get out from under. Save
yourself. Then all you'll have to do is, wait till my husband gets
back, and start over.
Maybe I still dont get you.
You've still got the letters, haven't you?
Oh, the letters.
He reaches inside his coat, takes out the packet of letters and tosses
it onto the table.
Thcre you are.
I told you two days ago I didn't want them.
Sure. That was two days ago.
They watch each other a moment. Then Temple dumps the fur coat and the
robe from her arm, onto the table, sets the bottle carefully on the
table, takes up the packet of letters and extends her other hand to
Give me your lighter.
Pete produces the lighter from his pocket and hands it to her. That is,
he extends it, not moving otherwise, so that she has
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 277
to take a step or two toward him to reach and take it. Then she turns and
crosses to the hearth, snaps the lighter on. It misses fire two or three
times, then lights. Pete has not moved, watching her. She stands
motionless a moment, the packet of letters in one hand, the burning
lighter in the other. Then she turns her head and looks back at him. For
another moment they watch each other.
Go ahead. Bum them. The other time I gave them to you, you turned them
down so you could always change your mind and back out. Burn them.
They watch each other for another moment. Then she turns her head and
stands now, her face averted, the lighter still burning. Pete watches her
for another moment.
Then put that junk down and come here.
She snaps out the lighter, turns, crosses to the table, putting the packet
of letters and the lighter on the table as she passes it, and goes on to
where Pete has not moved. At this moment, Nancy appears at the door, left.
Neither of them sees her. Pete puts his arms around Temple.
I offered you an out too.
(he draws her closer) Baby.
Dont call me that.
(tightens his arms, caressing and savage too) Red did. I'm as good a
man as he was. Aint I?
They kiss. Nancy moves quietly through the door and stops just inside the
room, watching them. She now wears the standardised department-store
maidservant's uniform, but without cap and apron, beneath a lightweight
open topcoat; on her head is a battered almost shapeless felt hat which
must have once belonged to a man. Pete breaks the kiss.
Come on. Let's get out of here. I've even got moral or something. I
dont even want to put my hands on you in his house-
He sees Nancy across Temple's shoulder, and reacts. Temple reacts to him,
turns quickly and sees Nancy too. Nancy comes on into the room.
278 WILLIAM FAULKNER
What are you doing here?
I brought my foot. So he can hold that cigarette against it.
So you're not just a thief: you're a spy too.
Maybe she's not a thief either. Maybe she brought it back.
(they watch Nancy, who doesn't
Or maybe she didn't. Maybe we had better use that cigarette.
How about it? Is that what you came back for, sure enough?
Hush. Take the bags and go on to the car.
(to Temple but watching Nancy) I'll wait for you. There
may be a little something I can do here, after all.
Go on, I tell you! Let's for God's sake get away from here. Go on.
Pete watches Nancy for a moment longer, who stands facing them but not
looking at anything, motionless, almost bemused, her face sad, brooding
and inscrutable. Then Pete turns, goes to the table, picks up the lighter,
seems about to pass on, then pauses again and with almost infinitesimal
hesitation takes up the packet of letters, puts it back inside his coat,
takes up the two packed bags and crosses to the french window, passing
Nancy, who is still looking at nothing and no one.
Not that I wouldn't like to, you know. For less than fifty bucks even.
For old lang syne.
He transfers the bags to one hand, opens the french window, starts to
exit, pauses half way out and looks back at Temple.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 279
I'll be listening, in case you change your mind about the cigarette.
He goes on out, draws the door to after him. Just before it closes, Nancy
Pete stops, begins to open the door again.
(quickly: to Pete) Go on! Go on! For God's sake go on!
Pete exits, shuts the door after him. Nancy and Temple face each other.
Maybe I was wrong to think that just hiding that money and diamonds was
going to stop you. Maybe I ought to have give it to him yesterday as soon
as I found where you had hid it. Then wouldn't nobody between here and
Chicago or Texas seen anything of him but his dust.
So you did steal it. And you saw what good that did, didn't you?
If you can call it stealing, then so can 1. Because wasn't but part of
it yours to begin with. Just the diamonds was yours. Not to mention that
money is almost two thousand dollars, that you told me was just two
hundred and that you told him was even less than that, just fifty. No
wonder he wasn't worried -about just fifty dollars. He wouldn't even be
worried if he knowed it was even the almost two thousand it is, let alone
the two hundred you told me it was. He aint even worried about whether
or not you'll have any money at all when you get out to the car. He knows
that all he's got to do is, just wait and keep his hand on you and maybe
just mash hard enough with it, and you'll get another passel of money and
diamonds too out of your husband or your pa. Only, this time he'll have
his hand on you and you'll have a little trouble telling him it's just
fifty dollars instead of almost two thousand-
280 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Temple steps quickly forward and slaps Nancy across the face.
Nancy steps back. As she does so, the packet of money and
the jewel box fall to the floor from inside her topcoat. Temple
stops, looking down at the money and jewels. Nancy recovers.
Yes, there it is, that caused all the grief and ruin. If you hadn't been
somebody that would have a box of diamonds and a husband that you could
find almost two thousand dollars in his britches pocket while he was
asleep, that man wouldn't have tried to sell you them letters. Maybe if
I hadn't taken and hid it, you would have give it to him before you come
to this. Or maybe if I had just give it to him yesterday and got the
letters, or maybe if I was to take it out to where he's waiting in that
car right now, and say, Here, man, take your money-
Try it. Pick it up and take it out to him, and see. If you'll wait until
I finish packing, you can even carry the bag.
I know. It aint even the letters any more. Maybe it never was. It was
already there in whoever could write the kind of letters that even eight
years afterward could still make grief and ruin. The letters never did
matter. You could have got them back at any time; he even tried to give
them to you twice-
How much spying have you been doing?
All of it.-You wouldn't even needed money and
diamonds to get them back. A woman dont need it.
All she needs is womanishness to get anything she
wants from men. You could have done that right
here in the house, without even tricking your husband
into going off fishing.
A perfect example of whore morality. But then, if I can say whore, so can
you, cant you? Maybe the difference is, I decline to be one in my
I aint talking about your husband. I aint even talking about you. I'm
talking about two little children.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 281
So am 1. Why else do you think I sent Bucky on to his grandmother, except
to get him out of a house where the man he has been taught to call his
father, may at any moment decide to tell him he has none? As clever a spy
as you must surely have heard my husband-
I've heard him. And I heard you too. You fought back-that time. Not for
yourself, but for that little child. But now you have quit.
Yes. You gave up. You gave up the child too. Willing to risk never seeing
him again maybe.
(Temple doesn't answer)
That's right. You don't need to make no excuses to me. Just tell me what
you must have already strengthened your mind up to telling all the rest
of the folks that are going to ask you that. You are willing to risk it.
Is that right?
(Temple doesn't answer)
All right. We'll say you have answered it. So that settles Bucky. Now
answer me this one. Who are you going to leave the other one with?
Leave her with? A six-months-old baby?
That's right. Of course you cant leave her. Not with nobody. You cant no
more leave a six-months-old baby while you run away from your husband with
another man, than you can take a six-months-old baby with you on that
trip. That's what I'm talking about. So maybe you'll just leave it in
there in th',it cradle; it'll cry for a while, but it's too little to cry
very loud and so maybe wont nobody hear it and come meddling, especially
with the house shut up and locked until Mr Gowan gets back next week, and
probably by that time it will have hushed-
Are you really trying to make me hit you again?
282 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Or maybe taking her with you will be just as easy, at least until the
first time you write Mr Gowan or your pa for money and they dont send
it as quick as your new man thinks they ought to, and he throws you
and the baby both out. Then you can just drop it into a garbage can
and no more trouble to you or anybody, because then you will be rid
of both of them-
(Temple makes a convulsive movement, then catches herself) Hit me.
Light you a cigarette too. I told you and him both I brought my foot.
Here it is.
(she raises her foot slightly)
I've tried everything else; I reckon I can try that too.
(repressed, furious) Hush. I tell you for the last time.
NANCY I've hushed.
She doesn't move. She is not looking at Temple. There is a slight change
in her voice or manner, though we only realise later that she is not
I've tried. I've tried everything I know. You can see that.
Which nobody will dispute. You threatened me with my children, and
even with my husband-if you can call my husband a threat. You even
stole my elopement money. Oh yes, nobody will dispute that you tried,
Though at least you brought the money back. Pick it up.
NANCY You said you dont need it.
TEMPLE I dont. Pick it up.
NANCY No more do I need it.
Pick it up, anyway. You can keep your next week's pay out of it when
you give it back to Mr Gowan.
Nancy stoops and gathers up the money, and gathers the jewelry back into
its box, and puts them on the table.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 283
(Nancy looks at her)
I'm sorry. Why do you force me to this-hitting and screaming at you, when
you have always been so good to my children and me-my husband too-all of
us-trying to hold us together in a household, a family, that anybody
should have known all the time couldn't possibly hold together? even in
decency, let alone happiness?
I reckon I'm ignorant. I dont know that yet. Besides, I aint talking about
any household or happiness neither-
(with sharp command) Nancyl
-I'm talking about two little children-
I said, hush.
I cant hush. I'm going to ask you one more time. Are you going to do it?
Maybe I am ignorant. You got to say it out in words yourself, so I can
hear them. Say, I'm going to do it.
You heard me. I'm going to do it.
Money or no money.
Money or no money.
Children or no children.
(Temple doesn't answer)
To leave one with a man that's willing to believe the child aint got no
father, willing to take the other one to a man that dont even want no
(They stare at one another) If you can do it, you can say
284 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Yes! Children or no children! Now get out of here.
Take your part of that money, and get out. Here-
Temple goes quickly to the table, removes two or three bills from the mass
of banknotes, and hands them to Nancy, who takes them. Temple takes up the
rest of the money, takes up her bag from the table and opens it. Nancy
crosses quietly toward the nursery, picking up the milk bottle from the
table as she passes, and goes on. With the open bag in one hand and the
money in the other, Temple notices Nancy's movement.
What are you doing?
This bottle has got cold. I'm going to warm it in the bathroom.
Then Nancy stops and looks back at Temple, with something so strange in
her look that Temple, about to resume putting the money into the bag,
pauses too, watching Nancy. When Nancy speaks, it is like the former
speech: we dont realise until afterward what it signifies.
I tried everything I knowed. You can see that.
(quietly, turning on)
She exits through the door into the nursery. Temple finishes putting the
money into the bag, and closes it and puts it back on the table. Then she
turns to the baby's bag. She tidies it, checks rapidly over its contents,
takes up the jewel box and stows it in the box and closes the bag. All
this takes about two minutes; she has just closed the bag when Nancy
emerges quietly from the nursery, without the milk bottle, and crosses,
pausing at the table only long enough to put back on it the money Temple
gave her, then starts on toward the opposite door through which she first
entered the room.
Nancy goes on toward the other door. Temple watches her.
(Nancy pauses, still not looking
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 285
Dont think too hard of me.
(Nancy waits, immobile, looking at nothing. When Temple
doesn't continue, she moves again toward the door)
If I-it ever comes up, I'll tell everybody you did
your best. You tried. But you were right. It wasn't
even the letters. It was me.
(Nancy moves on)
(Nancy reaches the door)
You've got your key. I'll leave your money here on
the table. You can get it
There is no answer. Temple looks a moment longer at the empty door, shrugs,
moves, takes up the money Nancy left, glances about, crosses to the littered
desk and takes up a paperweight and returns to the table and puts the money
beneath the weight; now moving rapidly and with determination, she takes up
the blanket from the table and crosses to the nursery door and exits through
it. A second or two, then she screams. The lights flicker and begin to dim,
fade swiftly into complete darkness, over the scream.
The stage is in complete darkness.
Same as Scene 1. Governor's Office. 3:09 A.M. March twelfth.
The lights go on upper left. The scene is the same as before, Scene 1,
except that Gowan Stevens now sits in the chair behind the desk where the
Governor had been sitting and the Governor is no longer in the room. Temple
now kneels before the desk, facing it, her arms on the desk and her face
buried in her arms. Stevens now stands beside and over her. The hands of the
clock show nine minutes past three.
Temple does not know that the Governor has gone and that her husband is now
in the room.
(her face still hidden)
And that's all. The police came, and the murderess
still sitting in a chair in the kitchen in the dark, saying
286 WILLIAM FAULKNER
'Yes, Lord, I done it,' and then in the cell at the jail still saying
(Stevens leans and touches her arm, as if to help her up. She
resists, though still not raising her head)
Not yet. It's my cue to stay down here until his honor or excellency
grants our plea, isn't it? Or have I already missed my cue forever even
if the sovereign state should offer me a handkerchief right out of its
own elected public suffrage dressing-gown pocket? Because see?
(she raises her face, quite blindly, tearless, still not
looking toward the chair where she could see Gowan instead
of the Governor, into the full glare of the light)
Still no tears.
Get up, Temple.
(he starts to lift her again, but before he can do so, she
rises herself, standing, her face still turned away from the
desk, still blind; she puts her arm up almost in the gesture
of a little girl about to cry, but instead she merely shields
her eyes from the light while her pupils readjust)
Nor cigarette either; this time it certainly wont take long, since all
he has to say is, No.
(still not turning her face to look, even though she is now
speaking directly to the Governor whom she still thinks is
sitting behind the desk)
Because you aren't going to save her, are you? Because all this was not
for the sake of her soul because her soul doesn't need it, but for mine.
Why not finish first? Tell the rest of it. You had started to say
something about the jail.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 287
The jail. They had the funeral the next day--Gowan had barely reached New
Orleans, so he chartered an airplane back that morning-and in Jefferson,
everything going to the graveyard passes the jail, or going anywhere else
for that matter, passing right under the upstairs barred windows-the
bullpen and the cells where the Negro prisoners-the crapshooters and
whiskey-peddlers and vagrants and the murderers and murderesses too-can
look down and enjoy it, enjoy the funerals too. Like this. Some white
person you know is in a jail or a hospital, and right off you say, How
ghastly: not at the shame or the pain, but the walls, the locks, and
before you even know it, you have sent them books to read, cards, puzzles
to play with. But not Negroes. You don't even think about the cards and
puzzles and books. And so all of a sudden you find out with a kind of
terror, that they have not only escaped having to read, they have escaped
having to escape. So whenever you pass the jail, you can see them-no, not
them, you dont see them at all, you just see the hands among the bars of
the windows, not tapping or fidgeting or even holding, gripping the bars
like white hands would be, but just lying there among the interstices, not
just at rest, but even restful, already shaped and easy and unanguished
to the handles of the plows and axes and hoes, and the mops and brooms and
the rockers of white folks' cradles, until even the steel bars fitted them
too without alarm or anguish. You see? not gnarled and twisted with work
at all, but even limbered and suppled by it, smoothed and even softened,
as though with only the penny-change of simple sweat they had already got
the same thing the white ones have to pay dollars by the ounce jar for.
Not immune to work, and in compromise with work is not the right word
either, but in confederacy with work and so free from it; in armistice,
peace;-the same long supple hands serene and immune to anguish, so that
all the owners of them need to look out with, to see with -to look out at
the outdoors-the funerals, the passing, the people, the freedom, the
sunlight, the free air-are just the hands: not the eyes: just the hands
lying there among the bars and looking out, that can see the shape of the
plow or hoe or axe before daylight comes; and even in the dark, without
even having to turn on the light, can not only find the child, the
288 WILLIAM FAULKNER
baby-not her child but yours, the white one-but the trouble and
discomfort too-the hunger, the wet didy, the unfastened safety-pin-and
see to remedy it. You see. If I could just cry. There was another one,
a man this time, before my time in Jefferson but Uncle Gavin will
remember this too. His wife had just died-they had been married only
two weeksand he buried her and so at first he tried just walking the
country roads at night for exhaustion and sleep, only that failed and
then he tried getting drunk so he could sleep, and that failed and
then he tried fighting and then he cut a white man's throat with a
razor in a dice game and so at last he could sleep for a little while;
which was where the sheriff found him, asleep on the wooden floor of
the gallery of the house he had rented for his wife, his marriage, his
life, his old age. Only that waked him up, and so in the jail that
afternoon, all of a sudden it took the jailer and a deputy and five
other Negro prisoners just to throw him down and hold him while they
locked the chains on him-lying there on the floor with more than a
half dozen men panting to hold him down, and what do you think he
said? 'Look like I just cant quit thinking. Look like I just cant
(she ceases, blinking, rubs her eyes and then extends one
hand blindly toward Stevens, who has already shaken out
his handkerchief and hands it to her. There are still no
tears on her face; she merely takes the handkerchief and
dabs, pats at her eyes with it as if it were a powderpuff,
But we have passed the jail, haven't we? We're in the courtroom now.
It was the same there; Uncle Gavin had rehearsed her, of course, which
was easy, since all you can say when they ask you to answer to a
murder charge is, Not Guilty. Otherwise, they cant even have a trial;
they would have to hurry out and find another murderer before they
could take the next official step. So they asked her, all correct and
formal among the judges and lawyers and bailiffs and jury and the
Scales and the Sword and the flag and the ghosts of Coke upon
Littleton upon Bonaparte and Julius Caesar and all the rest of it, not
to mention the eyes and the faces which were getting a moving-
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 289
picture show for free since they had already paid for it in the taxes, and
nobody really listening since there was only one thing she could say. Except
that she didn't say it: just raising her head enough to be heard plain-not
loud: just plain-and said, 'Guilty, Lord' -like that, disrupting and
confounding and dispersing and flinging back two thousand years, the whole
edifice of corpus juris and rules of evidence we have been working to make
stand up by itself ever since Caesar, like when without even watching
yourself or even knowing you were doing it, you would reach out your hand
and turn over a chip and expose to air and light and vision the frantic and
aghast turmoil of an antbed. And moved the chip again, when even the ants
must have thought there couldn't be another one within her reach: when they
finally explained to her that to say she was not guilty, had nothing to do
with truth but only with law, and this time she said it right, Not Guilty,
and so then the jury could tell her she lied and everything was all correct
again and, as everybody thought, even safe, since now she wouldn't be asked
to say anything at all any more. Only, they were wrong; the jury said Guilty
and the judge said Hang and now everybody was already picking up his hat to
go home, when she picked up that chip too: the judge said, 'And may God have
mercy on your soul' and Nancy answered: 'Yes, Lord.'
(she turns suddenly, almost briskly, speaking so briskly that her
momentum carries her on past the instant when she sees and
recognises Gowan sitting where she had thought all the time that
the Governor was sitting and listening to her)
And that is all, this time. And so now you can tell us. I know you're not
going to save her, but now you can say so. It wont be difficult. Just one
(she stops, arrested, utterly motionless, but even then she is
first to recover)
(Gowan rises quickly. Temple whirls to Stevens)
Why is it you must always believe in plants? Do you have to? Is it because
you have to? Because you are a
290 WILLIAM FAULKNER
lawyer? No, I'm wrong. I'm sorry; I was the one that started us hiding
gimmicks on each other, wasn't it?
(quickly: turning to Gowan)
Of course; you didn't take the sleeping pill at all. Which means you
didn't even need to, come here for the Governor to hide you behind the
door or under the desk or wherever it was he was trying to tell me you
were hiding and listening, because after all the Governor of a Southern
state has got to try to act like he regrets having to aberrate from being
(to Temple) Stop it.
Maybe we both didn't start hiding soon enough-by about eight years-not
in desk drawers either, but in two abandoned mine shafts, one in Siberia
and the other at the South Pole, maybe.
All right. I didn't mean hiding. I'm sorry.
Dont be. Just draw on your eight years' interest for that.
(to Stevens) All right, all right; tell me to shut up too.
(to no one directly)
In fact, this may be the time for me to start saying sorry for the next
eight-year term. Just give me a little time. Eight years of gratitude
might be a habit a little hard to break. So here goes.
(to Temple) I'm sorry. Forget it.
I would have told you.
You did. Forget it. You see how easy it is? You could have been doing
that yourself for eight years: every time I would say 'Say sorry,
please,' all you would need would be to answer: 'I did. Forget it.'
I guess that's all, isn't it? We can go home now.
(he starts to come around the
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 291
Wait. (Gowan stops; they look at each other) Where are you going?
I said home, didn't I? To pick up Bucky and carry him back to his own
bed again. (they look at one another) You're not even going to ask me
where he is now? (answers himself) Where we always leave our children
when the clutch-
STEVENS (to Gowan) Maybe I will say shut up this time.
Only let me finish first. I was going to say, 'with our handiest
kinfolks.' (to Temple) I carried him to Maggie's.
STEVENS (moving) I think we can all go now. Come on.
So do 1. (he comes on around the desk, and stops again; to Temple) Make
up your mind. Do you want to ride with me, or Gavin?
STEVENS (to Gowan) Go on. You can pick up Bucky.
Right. (he turns, starts toward the steps front, where Temple and
Stevens entered, then stops) That's right. I'm probably still supposed
to use the spy's entrance. (he turns back, starts around the desk
again, toward the door at rear, sees Temple's gloves and bag on the
desk, and takes them
292 WILLIAM FAULKNER
up and holds them out to her: roughly almost)
Here. This is what they call evidence; dont forget these.
(Temple takes the bag and gloves. Gowan goes on toward the
door at rear)
(after him) Did you have a hat and coat?
(he doesn't answer. He goes on, exits)
Oh God. Again.
STEVENS (touches her arm) Come on.
TEMPLE (not moving yet) Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow-
(speaking her thought, finishing the sentence)
-he will wreck the car again against the wrong tree, in the wrong place,
and you will have to forgive him again, for the next eight years until
he can wreck the car again in the wrong place, against the wrong tree-
I was driving it too. I was driving some of the time too.
(gently) Then let that comfort you.
(he takes her arm again, turns toward the stairs)
Come on. It's late.
(holds back) Wait. He said, No.
TEMPLE Did he say why?
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 293
STEVENS Yes. He cant.
Cant? The Governor of a state, with all the legal power to pardon or at
least reprieve, cant?
That's just law. If it was only law, I could have plead insanity for her
at any time, without bringing you here at two o'clock in the morning-
And the other parent too; dont forget that. I dont know yet how you did
it.... Yes, Gowan was here first; he was just pretending to be asleep when
I carried Bucky in and put him in his bed; yes, that was what you called
that leaking valve, when we stopped at the filling station to change the
wheel: to let him get ahead of us-
All right. He wasn't even talking about justice. He was talking about a
child, a little boy-
That's right. Make it good: the same little boy to hold whose normal and
natural home together, the murderess, the nigger, the dopefiend whore,
didn't hesitate to cast the last gambit-and maybe that's the wrong word
too, isn't W-she knew and had: her own debased and worthless life. Oh yes,
I know that answer too; that was brought out here tonight too: that a
little child shall not suffer in order to come unto Me. So good can come
out of evil.
It not only can, it must.
So touchg, then. Because what kind of natural and normal home can that
little boy have where his father may at any time tell him he has no
Haven't you been answering that question every day for six years? Didn't
Nancy answer it for you when she told you how you had fought back, not for
yourself, but for that little boy? Not to show the father that he was
wrong, nor even to prove to the little boy
294 WILLIAM FAULKNER
that the father was wrong, but to let the little boy learn with his
own eyes that nothing, not even that, which could possibly enter that
house, could ever harm him?
But I quit. Nancy told you that too.
She doesn't think so now. Isn't that what she's going to prove Friday
Friday. The black day. The day you never start on a journey. Except
that Nancy's journey didn't start at daylight or sunup or whenever it
is polite and tactful to hang people, day after tomorrow. Her journey
started that morning eight years ago when I got on the train at the
(she stops: a moment; then
Oh God, that was Friday too; that baseball game was Friday-
You see? Dont you see? It's nowhere near enough yet. Of course he
wouldn't save her. If he did that, it would be over: Gowan could just
throw me out, which he may do yet, or I could throw Gowan out, which
I could have done until it got too late now, too late forever now, or
the judge could have thrown us both out and given Bucky to an
orphanage, and '
would be all over. But now it can go on, tomorrc.--'and tomorrow and
tomorrow, forever and forever and
(gently tries to start her) Come on.
Tell me exactly what he did say. Not tonight: it couldn't have been
tonight-or did he say it over the telephone, and we didn't even
He said it a week ago-
Yes, about the same time when you sent the wire. What did he say?
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 295
'Wbo am 1, to have the brazen temerity and hardihood to set the puny
appanage of my office in the balance against that simple undeviable
aim? Who am 1, to render null and abrogate the purchase she made
with that poor crazed lost and worthless life?'
And good too-good and mellow too. So it was not even in hopes of
saving her life, that I came here at two o'clock in the morning. It
wasn't even to be told that he had already decided not to save her.
It was not even to confess to my husband, but to do it in the
hearing of two strangers, something which I bad spent eight years
trying to expiate so that my husband wouldn't have to know about it.
Dont you see? That's just suffering. Not for anything: just
You came here to affirm the very thing which Nancy is going to die
tomorrow morning to postulate: that little children, as long as they
are little children, shall be intact, unanguished, untorn,
All right. I have done that. Can we go home now?
.Wool I Yes.(she turns, moves toward the
steps, Stevens beside her. As she
reaches the first step, she falters,
seems to stumble slightly, like a
sleepwalker. Stevens steadies her
but at once she frees her arm,
and begins to descend)
(on the first step: to no one, still
with that sleepwalker air)
To save my soul-if I have a soul. If there is a God to
save it-a God who wants it-
THE JAIL (Nor Even Yet Quite Relinquish-)
So, although in a sense the jail was both older and less old than the
courthouse, in actuality, in time, in observation and memory, it was older
even than the town itself. Because there was no town until there was a
courthouse, and no courthouse until (like some unsentient unweaned creature
torn violently from the dug of its dam) the floorless lean-to rabbit-hutch
housing the iron chest was reft from the log flank of the jail and
transmogrified into a by-neo-Greek-out-of-Georgian-Eng-land edifice set in
the center of what in time would be the town Square (as a result of which,
the town itself had moved one block south-or rather, no town then and yet,
the courthouse itself the catalyst: a mere dusty widening of the trace,
trail, pathway in a forest of oak and ash and hickory and sycamore and
flowering catalpa and dogwood and judas tree and persimmon and wild plum,
with on one side old Alec Holston's tavern and coaching-yard, and a little
farther along, Ratcliffe's trading-post-store and the blacksmith's, and
diagonal to all of them, en face and solitary beyond the dust, th~ log jail;
moved-the town-complete and intact, one blo( southward, so that now, a
century and a quarter later, V coaching-yard and Ratcliffe's store were gone
and old Alec tavern and the blacksmith's were a hotel and a garage, on a
main thoroughfare true enough but still a business side-street, and the jail
across from them, though transformed also now into two storeys of Georgian
brick by the hand ((or anyway pocketbooks) ) of Sartoris and Sutpen and
Louis Grenier, faced not even on a side-street but on an alley);
And so, being older than all, it had seen all: the mutation and
the change: and, in that sense, had recorded them (indeed, as
Gavin Stevens, the town lawyer and the county amateur Cin
cinnatus, wits wont to say, if you would peruse in unbroken
ay, overlap ping-cont iriu ity the history of a community, look
not in the church registers and the courthouse records, but be
neath the successive layers of calcimine and creosote and
whitewash on the walls of the jail, since only in that forcible
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 297
carceration does man find the idleness in which to compose, in the gross
and simple terms of his gross and simple lusts and yearnings, the gross
and simple recapitulations of his gross and simple heart); invisible and
impacted, not only beneath the annual inside creosote-and-whitewash of
bullpen and cell, but on the blind outside walls too, first the simple
mud-chinked log ones and then the symmetric brick, not only the scrawled
illiterate repetitive unimaginative doggerel and the perspectiveless
almost prehistoric sexual picture-writing, but the images, the panorama
not only of the town but of its days and years until a century and better
had been accomplished, filled not only with its mutation and change from
a halting-place: to a community: to a settlement: to a village: to a town,
but with the shapes and motions, the gestures of passion and hope and
travail and endurance, of the men and women and children in their
successive overlapping generations long after the subjects which had
reflected the images were vanished and replaced and again replaced, as
when you stand say alone in a dim and empty room and believe, hypnotised
beneath the vast weight of man's incredible and enduring Was, that perhaps
by turning your head aside you will see from the corner of your eye the
turn of a moving limb-a gleam of crinoline, a laced wrist, perhaps even
a Cavalier plume-who knows? provided there is will enough, perhaps even
the face itself three hundred years after it was dust-the eyes, two
jellied tears filled with arrogance and pride and satiety and knowledge
of anguish and foreknowledge of death, saying no to death across twelve
generations, asking still the old same unanswerable question three
centuries after that which reflected them had learned that the answer
didn't matter, or-better still-had forgotten the asking of it-in the
shadowy fathomless dreamlike depths of an old mirror which has looked at
too much too long;
But not in shadow, not this one, this mirror, these logs: squatting in the
full glare of the stump-pocked clearing during those first summers,
solitary on its side of the dusty widening marked with an occasional wheel
but mostly by the prints of horses and men: Pettigrew's private pony
express until he and it were replaced by a monthly stagecoach from
Memphis, the race horse which Jason Compson traded to Ikkemotubbe, old
Mohataha's son and the last ruling Chickasaw chief in that section, for
a square of land so large that, as the first formal survey revealed, the
new courthouse would have been only another of Compson's outbuildings had
not the town Corporation bought enough of it (at Compson's price) to
forefend themselves being trespassers, and the saddle-mare
298 WILLIAM FAULKNER
which bore Doctor Habersham's worn black bag (and which drew the buggy
after Doctor Habersham got too old and stiff to mount the saddle), and the
mules which drew the wagon in which, seated in a rocking chair beneath a
French parasol held by a Negro slave girl, old Mohataha would come to town
on Saturdays (and came that last time to set her capital X on the paper
which ratified the dispossession of her people forever, coming in the
wagon that time too, barefoot as always but in the purple silk dress which
her son, Ikkemotubbe, had brought her back from France, and a hat crowned
with the royal-colored plume of a queen, beneath the slave-held parasol
still and with another female slave child squatting on her other side
holding the crusted slippers which she had never been able to get her feet
into, and in the back of the wagon the petty rest of the unmarked Empire
flotsam her son had brought to her which was small enough to be moved;
driving for the last time out of the woods into the dusty widening before
Ratcliffe's store where the Federal land agent and his marshal waited for
her with the paper, and stopped the mules and sat for a little time, the
young men of her bodyguard squatting quietly about the halted wagon after
the eight-mile walk, while from the gallery of the store and of Holston's
tavern the settlement-the Ratcliffes and Compsons and Peabodys and
Pettigrews ((not Grenier and Holston and Habersham, because Louis Grenier
declined to come in to see it, and for the same reason old Alec Holston
sat alone on that hot afternoon before the smoldering log in the fireplace
of his taproom, and Doctor Habersham was dead and his son had already
departed for the West with his bride, who was Mohataha's granddaughter,
and his father-in-law, Mohataha's son, Ikkemotubbe) )-looked on, watched:
the inscrutable ageless wrinkled face, the fat shapeless body dressed in
the cast-off garments of a French queen, which on her looked like the Sun-
day costume of the madam of a rich Natchez or New Orleans brothel, sitting
in a battered wagon inside a squatting ring of her household troops, her
young men dressed in their Sunday clothes for traveling too: then she
said, 'Where is this Indian territoryT And they told her: West. 'Turn the
mules west,' she said, and someone did so, and she took the pen from the
agent and made her X on the paper and handed the pen back and the wagon
moved, the young men rising too, and she vanished so across that summer
afternoon to that terrific and infinitesimal creak and creep of ungreased
wheels, herself immobile beneath the rigid parasol, grotesque and regal,
bizarre and moribund, like obsolescence's self riding off the stage
enthroned on its own obsolete catafalque, looking not once back, not once
back toward home);
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 299
But most of all, the prints of men-the fitted shoes which Doctor Habersham
and Louis Grenier had brought from the Atlantic seaboard, the cavalry
boots in which Alec Holston had ridden behind Francis Marion, and-more
myriad almost than leaves, outnumbering all the others lumped togetherthe
moccasins, the deerhide sandals of the forest, worn not by the Indians but
by white men, the pioneers, the long hunters, as though they had not only
vanquished the wilderness but had even stepped into the very footgear of
them they dispossessed (and mete and fitting so, since it was by means of
his feet and legs that the white man conquered America; the closed and
split U's of his horses and cattle overlay his own prints always, merely
consolidating his victory);-(the jail) watched them all, red men and white
and black-the pioneers, the hunters, the forest men with rifles, who made
the same light rapid soundless toed-in almost heelless prints as the red
men they dispossessed and who in fact dispossessed the red men for that
reason: not because of the grooved barrel but because they could enter the
red man's milieu and make the same footprints that he made; the husbandman
printing deep the hard heels of his brogans because of the weight he bore
on his shoulders: axe and saw and plow-stock, who dispossessed the forest
man for the obverse reason: because with his saw and axe he simply
removed, obliterated, the milieu in which alone the forest man could
exist; then the land speculators and the traders in slaves and whiskey who
followed the husbandmen, and the politicians who followed the land specu-
lators, printing deeper and deeper the dust of that dusty widening, until
at last there was no mark of Chickasaw left in it any more; watching (the
jail) them all, from the first innocent days when Doctor Habersham and his
son and Alec Holston and Louis Grenier were first guests and then friends
of Ikkemotubbe's Chickasaw clan; then an Indian agent and a land-office
and a trading-post, and suddenly Ikkemotubbe and his Chickasaws were
themselves the guests without being friends of the Federal Government;
then Ratcliffe, and the trading-post was no longer simply an Indian
trading-post, though Indians were still welcome, of course (since, after
all, they owned the land or anyway were on it first and claimed it), then
Compson with his race horse and presently Compson began to own the Indian
accounts for tobacco and calico and jeans pants and cooking-pots on
Ratcliffe's books (in time he would own Ratcliffe's books too) and one day
Ikkemotubbe owned the race horse and Compson owned the land itself, some
of which the city fathers would have to buy from him at his price in order
to establish a town; and Pettigrew with his tri-weekly mail, and then a
monthly stage and the new faces
300 WILLIAM FAULKNER
coming in faster than old Alec Holston, arthritic and irascible, hunkered
like an old surly bear over his smoldering hearth even in the heat of
summer (he alone now of that original three, since old Grenier no longer
came in to the settlement, and old Doctor Habersham was dead, and the old
doctor's son, in the opinion of the settlement, had already turned Indian
and renegade even at the age of twelve or fourteen) any longer made any
effort, wanted, to associate names with; and now indeed the last moccasin
print vanished from that dusty widening, the last toed-in heelless light
soft quick longstriding print pointing west for an instant, then trodden
from the sight and memory of man by a heavy leather heel engaged not in
the traffic of endurance and hardihood and survival, but in money-taking
with it (the print )not only the moccasins but the deer-hide leggins and
jerkin too, because Ikkemotubbe's Chickasaws now wore Eastern factory-made
jeans and shoes sold them on credit out of Ratcliffe's and Compson's
general store, walking in to the settlement on the white man's Saturday,
carrying the alien shoes rolled neatly in the alien pants under their
arms, to stop at the bridge over Compson's creek long enough to bathe
their legs and feet before donning the pants and shoes, then coming on to
squat all day on the store gallery eating cheese and crackers and
peppermint candy (bought on credit too out of Compson's and Ratcliffe's
showcase) and now not only they but Habersham and Holston and Grenier too
were there on sufferance, anachronistic and alien, not really an annoyance
yet but simply a discomfort;
Then they were gone; the jail watched that: the halted ungreased unpainted
wagon, the span of underfed mules attached to it by fragments of Eastern
harness supplemented by raw deer-bide thongs, the nine young men-the wild
men, tameless and proud, who even in their own generation's memory had
been free and, in that of their fathers, the heirs of kings-squatting
about it, waiting, quiet and composed, not even dressed in the ancient
forest-softened deerskins of their freedom but in the formal regalia of
the white man's inexplicable ritualistic sabbaticals: broadcloth trousers
and white shirts with boiled-starch bosoms (because they were traveling
now; they would be visible to outworld, to strangers:-and carrying the New
England-made shoes under their arms too since the distance would be long
and walking was better barefoot), the shirts collarless and cravatless
true enough and with the tails worn outside, but still board-rigid,
gleaming, pristine, and in the rocking chair in the wagon, beneath the
slave-borne parasol, the fat shapeless old matriarch in the
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 301
regal sweat-stained purple silk and the plumed hat, barefoot too of course
but, being a queen, with another slave to carry her slippers, putting her
cross to the paper and then driving on, vanishing slowly and terrifically
to the slow and terrific creak and squeak of the ungreased
wagon-apparently and apparently only, since in reality it was as though,
instead of putting an inked cross at the foot of a sheet of paper, she had
lighted the train of a mine set beneath a dam, a dyke, a barrier already
straining, bulging, bellying, not only towering over the land but leaning,
looming, imminent with collapse, so that it only required the single light
touch of the pen in that brown illiterate hand, and the wagon did not
vanish slowly and terrifically from the scene to the terrific sound of its
ungreased wheels, but was swept, hurled, flung not only out of Yok-
napatawpha County and Mississippi but the United States too, immobile and
intact-the wagon, the mules, the rigid shapeless old Indian woman and the
nine heads which surrounded her-like a float or a piece of stage property
dragged rapidly into the wings across the very backdrop and amid the very
bustle of the property-men setting up for the next scene and act before
the curtain had even had time to fall;
There was no time; the next act and scene itself clearing its own stage
without waiting for property-men; or rather, not even bothering to clear
the stage but commencing the new act and scene right in the midst of the
phantoms, the fading wraiths of that old time which had been exhausted,
used up, to be no more and never return: as though the mere and simple
orderly ordinary succession of days was not big enough, comprised not
scope enough, and so weeks and months and years had to be condensed and
compounded into one burst, one surge, one soundless roar filled with one
word: town: city: with a name: Jefferson; men's mouths and their in-
credulous faces (faces to which old Alec Holston had long since ceased
trying to give names or, for that matter, even to recognise) were filled
with it; that was only yesterday, and by tomorrow the vast bright rush and
roar had swept the very town one block south, leaving in the tideless
backwater of an alley on a side-street the old jail which, like the old
mirror, had already looked at too much too long, or like the patriarch
who, whether or not he decreed the conversion of the mudchinked cabin into
a mansion, had at least foreseen it, is now not only content but even
prefers the old chair on the back gallery, free of the rustle of
blueprints and the uproar of bickering architects in the already
It (the old jail) didn't care, tideless in that backwash, in- 302 WILLIAM FAULKNER
sulated by that city block of space from the turmoil of the town's birthing,
the mud-chinked log walls even carcerant of the flotsam of an older time
already on its rapid way out too: an occasional runaway slave or drunken
Indian or shoddy would-be heir of the old tradition of Mason or Hare or
Harpe (biding its time until, the courthouse finished, the jail too would be
translated into brick, but, unlike the courthouse, merely a veneer of brick,
the old mud-chinked logs of the ground floor still intact behind the
patterned and symmetric sheath); no longer even watching now, merely
cognizant, remembering: only yesterday was a wilderness ordinary, a store,
a smithy, and already today was not a town, a city, but the town and city:
named; not a courthouse but the courthouse, rising surging like the fixed
blast of a rocket, not even finished yet but already looming, beacon focus
and lodestar, already taller than anything else, out of the rapid and fading
wilderness-not the wilderness receding from the rich and arable fields as
tide recedes, but rather the fields themselves, rich and inexhaustible to
the plow, rising sunward and airward out of swamp and morass, themselves
thrusting back and down brake and thicket, bayou and bottom and forest,
along with the copeless denizens-the wild men and animals-which once haunted
them, wanting, dreaming, imagining, no other-lodestar and pole, drawing the
people-the men and women and children, the maidens, the marriageable girls
and the young men, flowing, pouring in with their tools and goods and cattle
and slaves and gold money, behind ox- or mule-teams, by steamboat up
Ikkemotubbe's old river from the Mississippi; only yesterday Pettigrew's
pony express had been displaced by a stage-coach, yet already there was talk
of a railroad less than a hundred miles to the north, to run all the way
from Memphis to the Atlantic Ocean;
Going fast now: only seven years, and not only was the courthouse finished,
but the jail too: not a new jail of course but the old one veneered over
with brick, into two storeys, with white trim and iron-barred windows: only
its face lifted, because behind the veneer were still the old ineradicable
bones, the old ineradicable remembering: the old logs immured intact and
lightness between the tiered symmetric bricks and the whitewashed plaster,
immune now even to having to look, see, watch that new time which in a few
years more would not even remember that the old logs were there behind the
brick or had ever been, an age from which the drunken Indian had vanished,
leaving only the highwayman, who bad wagered his liberty on his luck, and
the runaway nigger, who having no freedom to stake, had wagered merely his
milieu; that rapid,
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 303
that fast: Sutpen's untameable Paris architect long since departed,
vanished (one hoped) back to wherever it was he had made that aborted
midnight try to regain and had been overtaken and caught in the swamp, not
(as the town knew now) by Sutpen and Sutpen's wild West Indian headman and
Sutpen's bear hounds, nor even by Sutpen's destiny nor even by his (the
architect's) own, but by that of the town: the long invincible arm of
Progress itself reaching into that midnight swamp to pluck him out of that
bayed circle of dogs and naked Negroes and pine torches, and stamped the
town with him like a rubber signature and then released him, not flung him
away like a squeezed-out tube of paint, but rather (inattentive too)
merely opening its fingers, its hand; stamping his (the architect's)
imprint not on just the courthouse and the jail, but on the whole town,
the flow and trickle of his bricks never even faltering, his molds and
kilns building the two churches and then that Female Academy a certificate
from which, to a young woman of North Mississippi or West Tennessee, would
presently have the same mystic significance as an invitation dated from
Windsor castle and signed by Queen Victoria would for a young female from
Long Island or Philadelphia;
That fast now: tomorrow, and the railroad did run unbroken from Memphis
to Carolina, the light-wheeled bulb-stacked wood-burning engines shrieking
among the swamps and canebrakes where bear and panther still lurked, and
through the open woods where browsing deer still drifted in pale bands
like unwinded smoke: because they-the wild animals, the beasts -remained,
they coped, they would endure; a day, and they would flee, lumber, scuttle
across the clearings already overtaken and relinquished by the hawk-shaped
shadows of mail planes; they would endure, only the wild men were gone;
indeed, tomorrow, and there would be grown men in Jefferson who could not
even remember a drunken Indian in the jail; another tomorrow-so quick, so
rapid, so fast-and not even a highwayman any more of the old true
sanguinary girth and tradition of Hare and Mason and the mad Harpes; even
Murrell, their thrice-compounded heir and apothesis, who had taken his
heritage of simple rapacity and bloodlust and converted it into a bloody
dream of outlaw-empire, was gone, finished, as obsolete as Alexander,
checkmated and stripped not even by man but by Progress, by a pierceless
front of middle-class morality which refused him even the dignity of
execution as a felon, but instead merely branded him on the hand like an
Elizabethan pickpocket-until all that remained of the old days for the
jail to incarcerate was the runaway
304 WILLIAM FAULKNER
slave, for his little hour more, his little minute yet while the time, the
land, the nation, the American earth, whirled faster and faster toward the
plunging precipice of its destiny;
That fast, that rapid: a commodity in the land now which until now had dealt
first in Indians: then in acres and sections and boundaries:-an economy:
Cotton: a king: omnipotent and omnipresent: a destiny of which (obvious now)
the plow and the axe had been merely the tools; not plow and axe which had
effaced the wilderness, but Cotton: petty globules of Motion weightless and
myriad even in the hand of a child, incapable even of wadding a rifle, let
alone of charging it, yet potent enough to sever the very taproots of oak
and hickory and gum, leaving the acre-shading tops to wither and vanish in
one single season beneath that fierce minted glare; not the rifle nor the
plow which drove at last the bear and deer and panther into the last jungle
fastnesses of the river bottoms, but Cotton; not the soaring cupola of the
courthouse drawing people into the country, but that same white tide
sweeping them in: that tender skin covering the winter's brown earth,
burgeoning through spring and summer into September's white surf crashing
against the flanks of gin and warehouse and ringing like bells on the marble
counters of the banks: altering not just the face of the land, but the
complexion of the town too, creating its own parasitic aristocracy not only
behind the columned porticoes of the plantation houses, but in the count-
ing-rooms of merchants and bankers and the sanctums of lawyers, and not only
these last, but finally nadir complete: the county offices too: of sheriff
and tax-collector and bailiff and turnkey and clerk; doing overnight to the
old jail what Sutpen's architect with all his brick and iron smithwork, had
not been able to accomplish-the old jail which had been unavoidable, a
necessity, like a public comfort-station, and which, like the public
comfort-station, was not ignored but simply by mutual concord, not seen, not
looked at, not named by its purpose and aim, yet which to the older people
of the town, in spite of Sutpen's architect's face-lifting, was still the
old jail-now translated into an integer, a moveable pawn on the county's
political board like the sheriff's star or the clerk's bond or the bailiff's
wand of office; converted indeed now, elevated (an apotheosis) ten feet
above the level of the town, so that the old buried log walls now contained
the living-quarters for the turnkey's family and the kitchen from which his
wife catered, at so much a meal, to the city's and the county's
prisoners-perquisite not for work or capability for work, but for political
fidelity and the numerality of votable kin by blood or marriage-a jailor or
turnkey, himself someone's
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 305
cousin and with enough other cousins and inlaws of his own to have assured
the election of sheriff or chancery- or circuitclerk-a failed farmer who was
not at all the victim of his time but, on the contrary, was its master,
since his inherited and inescapable incapacity to support his family by his
own eff orts had matched him with an era and a land where government was
founded on the working premise of being primarily an asylum for ineptitude
and indigence, for the private business failures among your or your wife's
kin whom otherwise you yourself would have to support-so much his destiny's
master that, in a land and time where a man's survival depended not only on
his ability to drive a straight furrow and to fell a tree without maiming or
destroying himself, that fate had supplied to him one child: a frail anemic
girl with narrow workless bands lacking even the strength to milk a cow, and
then capped its own vanquishment and eternal subjugation by the paradox of
giving him for his patronymic the designation of the vocation at which he
was to fail: Farmer; this was the incumbent, the turnkey, the jailor; the
old tough logs which had known Ikkemotubbe's drunken Chickasaws and brawling
teamsters and trappers and flatboatmen (and-for that one short summer
night-the four highwaymen, one of whom might have been the murderer, Wiley
Harpe), were now the bower framing a window in which mused hour after hour
and day and month and year, the frail blonde girl not only incapable of (or
at least excused from) helping her mother cook, but even of drying the
dishes after her mother (or father perhaps) washed them-musing, not even
waiting for anyone or anything, as far as the town knew, not even pensive,
as far as the town knew: just musing amid her blonde hair in the window
facing the country town street, day after day and month after month and-as
the town remembered it-year after year for what must have been three or four
of them, inscribing at some moment the fragile and indelible signature of
her meditation in one of the panes of it (the window): her frail and
workless name, scratched by a diamond ring in her frail and workless hand,
and the date: Cecilia Farmer April 16th 1861;
At which moment the destiny of the land, the nation, the South, the State,
the County, was already whirling into the plunge of its precipice, not that
the State and the South knew it, because the first seconds of fall always
seem like soar: a weightless deliberation preliminary to a rush not downward
but upward, the failing body reversed during that second by
transubstantiation into the upward rush of earth; a soar, an apex, the
South's own apotheosis of its destiny and its pride, Mississippi and
Yoknapatawpha County not last in this, Mis-
306 WILLIAM FAULKNER
sissippi among the first of the eleven to ratify secession, the regiment
of infantry which John Sartoris raised and organised with Jefferson for
its headquarters, going to Virginia numbered Two in the roster of
Mississippi regiments, the jail watching that too but just by cognizance
from a block away: that noon, the regiment not even a regiment yet but
merely a voluntary association of untried men who knew they were ignorant
and hoped they were brave, the four sides of the Square lined with their
fathers or grandfathers and their mothers and wives and sisters and
sweethearts, the only uniform present yet that one in which Sartoris stood
with his virgin sabre and his pristine colonel's-braid on the courthouse
balcony, bareheaded too while the Baptist minister prayed and the Richmond
mustering officer swore the regiment in; and then (the regiment) gone; and
now not only the jail but the town too hung without motion in a tideless
backwash: the plunging body advanced far enough now into space as to have
lost all sense of motion, weightless and immobile upon the light pressure
of invisible air, gone now all diminishment of the precipice's lip, all
increment of the vast increaseless ear-th: a town of old men and women and
children and an occasional wounded soldier (John Sartoris himself, deposed
from his colonelcy by a regimental election after Second Manassas, came
home and oversaw the making and harvesting of a crop on his plantation
before he got bored and gathered up a small gang of irregular cavalry and
carried it up into Tennessee to join Forrest), static in quo, rumored,
murmured of war only as from a great and incredible dreamy distance, like
far summer thunder: until the spring of '64, the oncevast fixed impalpable
increaseless and threatless earth now one omnivorous roar of rock (a roar
so vast and so spewing, flinging ahead of itself, like the spray above the
maelstrom, the preliminary anesthetic of shock so that the agony of bone
and flesh will not even be felt, as to contain and sweep along with it the
beginning, the first ephemeral phase, of this story, permitting it to boil
for an instant to the surface like a chip or a twig-a match-stick or a
bubble, say, too weightless to give resistance for destruction to function
against: in this case, a bubble, a minute globule which was its own
impunity, since what it-the bubble-contained, having no part in
rationality and being contemptuous of fact, was immune even to the ra-
tionality of rock)-a sudden battle centering around Colonel Sartoris's
plantation house four miles to the north, the line of a creek held long
enough for the main Confederate body to pass through Jefferson to a
stronger line on the river heights south of the town, a rear-guard action
of cavalry in the streets of the town itself (and this was the story, the
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 307
ginning of it; all of it too, the town might have been justified in
thinking, presuming they had had time to see, notice, remark 'and then
remember, even that little)-the rattle and burst of pistols, the hooves, the
dust, the rush and scurry of a handful of horsemen led by a lieutenant, up
the street past the jail, and the two of them-the frail and useless girl
musing in the blonde mist of her hair beside the window-pane where three or
four (or whatever it was) years ago she had inscribed with her grandmother's
diamond ring her paradoxical and significantless name (and where, so it
seemed to the town, she had been standing ever since), and the soldier,
gaunt and tattered, battle-grimed and fleeing and undefeated, looking at one
another for that moment across the fury and pell mell of battle;
Then gone; that night the town was occupied by Federal troops; two nights
later, it was on fire (the Square, the stores and shops and the professional
offices), gutted (the courthouse too), the blackened jagged topless jumbles
of brick wall enclosing like a ruined jaw the blackened shell of the
courthouse between its two rows of topless columns, which (the columns) were
only blackened and stained, being tougher than fire: but not the jail, it
escaped, untouched, insulated by its windless backwater from fire; and now
the town was as though insulated by fire or perhaps cauterised by fire from
fury and turmoil, the long roar of the rushing omnivorous rock fading on to
the east with the fading uproar of the battle: and so in effect it was a
whole year in advance of Appomattox (only the undefeated undefeatable women,
vulnerable only to death, resisted, endured, irreconcilable); already,
before there was a name for them (already their prototype before they even
existed as a species), there were carpetbaggers in Jefferson-a Missourian
named Redmond, a cotton-and qua rterma ster-supplies speculator, who had
followed the Northern army to Memphis in '61 and (nobody knew exactly how or
why) had been with (or at least on the fringe of) the military household of
the brigadier commanding the force which occupied Jefferson,
himself-Redmond-going no farther, stopping, staying, none knew the why for
that either, why he elected Jefferson, chose that alien fire-gutted site
(himself one, or at least the associate, of them who had set the match) to
be his future home; and a German private, a blacksmith, a deserter from a
Pennsylvania regiment, who appeared in the summer of '64, riding a mule,
with (so the tale told later, when his family of daughters had become matri-
archs and grandmothers of the town's new aristocracy) for saddle-blanket
sheaf on sheaf of virgin and uncut United States
308 WILLIAM FAULKNER
banknotes, so Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County had mounted Golgotha and
passed beyond Appomattox a full year in advance, with returned soldiers
in the town, not only the wounded from the battle of Jefferson, but whole
men: not only the furloughed from Forrest in Alabama and Johnston in
Georgia and Lee in Virginia, but the stragglers, the unmaimed flotsam and
refuse of that single battle now drawing its final constricting loop from
the Atlantic Ocean to Old Point Comfort, to Richmond: to Chattanooga: to
Atlanta: to the Atlantic Ocean again at Charleston, who were not deserters
but who could not rejoin any still-intact Confederate unit for the reason
that there were enemy armies between, so that in the almost faded twilight
of that land, the knell of Appomattox made no sound; when in the spring
and early summer of '65 the formally and officially paroled and disbanded
soldiers began to trickle back into the county, there was anticlimax; they
returned to a land which not only had passed through Appomattox over a
year ago, it had had that year in which to assimilate it, that whole year
in which not only to ingest surrender but (begging the metaphor, the
figure) to convert, metabolise it, and then defecate it as fertilizer for
the four-years' fallow land they were already in train to rehabilitate a
year before the Virginia knell rang the formal change, the men of '65
returning to find themselves alien in the very land they had been bred and
born in and had fought for four years to defend, to find a working and
already solvent economy based on the premise that it could get along
without them; (and now the rest of this story, since it occurs, happens,
here: not yet June in '65; this one had indeed wasted no time getting
back: a stranger, alone; the town did not even know it had ever seen him
before, because the other time was a year ago and had lasted only while
he galloped through it firing a pistol backward at a Yankee army, and he
had been riding a horse-a fine though a little too small and too delicate
blooded mare-where now he rode a big mule, which for that reason -its
size-was a better mule than the horse was a horse, but it was still a
mule, and of course the town could not know that he had swapped the mare
for the mule on the same day that he traded his lieutenant's sabre-he
still had the pistol -for the stocking full of seed corn he had seen
growing in a Pennsylvania field and had not let even the mule have one
mouthful of' it during the long journey across the ruined land between the
Atlantic seaboard and the JeTerson jail, riding up to the jail at last,
still gaunt and tattered and dirty and still undefeated and not fleeing
now but instead making or at least planning a single-handed assault
against what any rational man would have considered insurmountable odds
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 309
then, that bubble had ever been immune to the ephemerae of facts) );
perhaps, probably-without doubt: apparently she had been standing leaning
musing in it for three or four years in 1864; nothing had happened since,
not in a land which had even anticipated Appamattox, capable of shaking
a meditation that rooted, that durable, that veteran-the girl watched him
get down and tie the mule to the fence, and perhaps while he walked from
the fence to the door be even looked for a moment at her, though possibly,
perhaps even probably, not, since she was not his immediate object now,
he was not really concerned with her at the moment, because he had so
little time, he had none, really: still to reach Alabama and the small
hill farm which had been his father's and would now be his, if-no, when-he
could get there, and it had not been ruined by four years of war and
neglect, and even if the land was still plantable, even if he could start
planting the stocking of corn tomorrow, he would be weeks and even months
late; during that walk to the door and as he lifted his hand to knock on
it, he must have thought with a kind of weary and indomitable outrage of
how, already months late, he must still waste a day or maybe even two or
three of them before he could load the girl onto the mule behind him and
head at last for Alabama-this, at a time when of all things he would
require patience and a clear head, trying for them ((courtesy too, which
would be demanded now)), patient and urgent and polite, undefeated, trying
to explain, in terms which they could understand or at least accept, his
simple need and the urgency of it, to the mother and father whom he had
never seen before and whom he never intended, or anyway anticipated, to
see again, not that he had anything for or against them either: he simply
intended to be too busy for the rest of his life, once they could get on
the mule and start for home; not seeing the girl then, during the in-
terview, not even asking to see her for a moment when the interview was
over, because he had to get the license now and then find the preacher:
so that the first word he ever spoke to her was a promise delivered
through a stranger; it was probably not until they were on the mule-the
frail useless hands whose only strength seemed to be that sufficient to
fold the wedding license into the bosom of her dress and then cling to the
belt around his waist-that be looked at her again or ((both of them)) had
time to learn one another's middle name);
That was the story, the incident, ephemeral of an afternoon in late May,
unrecorded by the town and the county because they had little time too:
which (the county and the town)
310 WILLIAM FAULKNER
had anticipated Appomattox and kept that lead, so that in effect Appomattox
itself never overhauled them; it was the long pull of course, but they
had-as they would realise later -that priceless, that unmatchable year; on
New Year's Day, 1865, while the rest of the South sat staring at the
northeast horizon beyond which Richmond lay, like a family staring at the
closed door to a sick-room, Yoknapatawpha County was already nine months
gone in reconstruction; by New Year's of '66, the gutted walls (the rain of
two winters had washed them clean of the smoke and soot) of the Square had
been temporarily roofed and were stores and shops and offices again, and
they had begun to restore the courthouse: not temporary, this, but restored,
exactly as it had been, between the two columned porticoes, one north and
one south, which had been tougher than dynamite and fire, because it was the
symbol: the County and the City: and they knew how, who had done it before;
Colonel Sartoris was home now, and General Compson, the first Jason's son,
and though a tragedy had happened to Sutpen and his pride-a failure not of
his pride nor even of his own bones and flesh, but of the lesser bones and
flesh which he had believed capable of supporting the edifice of his
dream-they still had the old plans of his architect and even the architect's
molds, and even more: money, (strangely, curiously) Redmond, the town's
domesticated carpetbagger, symbol of a blind rapacity almost like a
biological instinct, destined to cover the South like a migration of
locusts; in the case of this man, arriving a full year before its time and
now devoting no small portion of the fruit of his rapacity to restoring the
very building the destruction of which had rung up the curtain for his
appearance on the stage, had been the formal visa on his passport to
pillage; and by New Year's of '76, this same Redmond with his money and
Colonel Sartoris and General Compson had built a railroad from Jefferson
north into Tennessee to connect with the one from Memphis to the Atlantic
Ocean; nor content there either, north or south: another ten years (Sartoris
and Redmond and Compson quarreled, and Sartoris and Redmond bought-probably
with Redmond's money-Compson's interest in the railroad, and the next year
Sartoris and Redmond had quarreled and the year after that, because of
simple physical fear, Redmond killed Sartoris from ambush on the Jefferson
Square and fled, and at last even Sartoris's supporters-he had no friends:
only enemies and frantic admirers-began to understand the result of that
regimental election in the fall of '62) and the railroad was a part of that
system covering the whole South and East like the veins in an oak leaf and
itself mutually adjunctive to the other intricate
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 311
systems covering the rest of the United States, so that you could get on
a train in Jefferson now and, by changing and waiting a few times, go
anywhere in North America;
No more into the United States, but into the rest of the United States,
because the long pull was over now; only the aging unvanquished women were
unreconciled, irreconcilable, reversed and irrevocably reverted against
the whole moving unanimity of panorama until, old unordered vacant pilings
above a tide's flood, they themselves had an illusion of motion, facing
irreconcilably backward toward the old lost battles, the old aborted
cause, the old four ruined years whose very physical scars ten and twenty
and twenty-five changes of season had annealed back into the earth;
twenty-five and then thirty-five years; not only a century and an age, but
a way of thinking died; the town itself wrote the epilogue and epitaph:
1900, on Confederate Decoration Day, Mrs Virginia Depre, Colonel
Sartoris's sister, twitched a lanyard and the spring-restive bunting
collapsed and flowed, leaving the marble effigy-the stone infantryman on
his stone pedestal on the exact spot where forty years ago the Richmond
officer and the local Baptist minister had mustered in the Colonel's regi-
ment, and the old men in the gray and braided coats (all officers now,
none less in rank than captain) tottered into the sunlight and fired
shotguns at the bland sky and raised their cracked quavering voices in the
shrill hackle-lifting yelling which Lee and Jackson and Longstreet and the
two Johnstons (and Grant and Sherman and Hooker and Pope and McClellan and
Burnside too for the matter of that) had listened to amid the smoke and
the din; epilogue and epitaph, because apparently neither the U.D.C.
ladies who instigated and bought the monument, nor the architect who
designed it nor the masons who erected it, had noticed that the marble
eyes under the shading marble palm stared not toward the north and the
enemy, but toward the south, toward (if anything) his own rear-looking
perhaps, the wits said (could say now, with the old war thirty-five years
past and you could even joke about it-except the women, the ladies, the
unsurrendered, the irreconcilable, who even after another thirty-flve
years would still get up and stalk out of picture houses showing Gone With
the Wind), for reinforcements; or per. haps not a combat soldier at all,
but a provost marshal's man looking for deserters, or perhaps himself for
a safe place to run to: because that old war was dead; the sons of those
tottering old men in gray had already died in blue coats in Cuba, the
macabre mementos and testimonials and shrines of the new war already
usurping the earth before the blasts of
312 WILLIAM FAULKNER
blank shotgun shells and the weightless collapsing of bunting had unveiled
the final ones to the old;
Not only a new century and a new way of thinking, but of acting and
behaving too: now you could go to bed in a train in Jefferson and wake up
tomorrow morning in New Orleans or Chicago; there were electric lights and
running water in almost every house in town except the cabins of Negroes;
and now the town had bought and brought from a great distance a kind of
gray crushed ballast-stone called macadam, and paved the entire street
between the depot and the hotel, so that no more would the train-meeting
hacks filled with drummers and lawyers and court-witnesses need to lurch
and heave and strain through the winter mud-holes; every morning a wagon
came to your very door with artificial ice and put it in your icebox on
the back gallery for you, the children in rotationai neighborhood gangs
following it (the wagon), eating the fragments of ice which the Negro
driver chipped off for them; and that summer a specially-built
sprinkling-cart began to make the round of the streets each day; a new
time, a new age: there were screens in windows now; people (white people)
who could actually sleep in summer night air, finding it harmless,
uninimical: as though there had waked suddenly in man (or anyway in his
womenfolks) a belief in his inalienable civil right to be free of dust and
Moving faster and faster: from the speed of two horses on either side of
a polished tongue, to that of thirty then fifty then a hundred under a tin
bonnet no bigger than a wash-tub: which from almost the first explosion,
would have to be controlled by police; already in a back yard on the edge
of town, an ex-blacksmith's-apprentice, a grease-covered man with the eyes
of a visionary monk, was building a gasoline buggy, casting and boring his
own cylinders and rods and cams, inventing his own coils and plugs and
valves as he found he needed them, which would run, and did: crept popping
and stinking out of the alley at the exact moment when the banker Bayard
Sartoris, the Colonel's son, passed in his carriage: as a result of which,
there is on the books of Jefferson today a law prohibiting the operation
of any mechanicallypropelled vehicle on the streets of the corporate town:
who (the same banker Sartoris) died in one (such was progress, that fast,
that rapid) lost from control on an icy road by his (the banker's)
grandson, who had just returned from (such was progress) two years of
service as a combat airman on the Western Front and now the camouflage
paint is weathering slowly from a French point-seventy-five field piece
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 313
on one flank of the base of the Confederate monument, but even before it
faded there was neon in the town and A.A.A. and C.C.C. in the county, and
W.P.A. ("and XYZ and etc.," as "Uncle Pete" Gombault, a lean clean
tobacco-chewing old man, incumbent of a political sinecure under the
designation of United States marshal-an office held back in reconstruction
times, when the State of Mississippi was a United States military
district, by a Negro man who was still living in 1925 -firemaker, sweeper,
janitor and furnace-attendant to five or six lawyers and doctors and one
of the banks-and still known as "Mulberry" from the avocation which he had
followed before and during and after his incumbency as marshal: peddling
illlicit whiskey in pint and half-pint bottles from a cache beneath the
roots of a big mulberry tree behind the drugstore of his pre-1865
owner-put it) in both; W.P.A. and XYZ marking the town and the county as
war itself had not: gone now were the last of the forest trees which had
followed the shape of the Square, shading the unbroken second-storey
balcony onto which the lawyers' and doctors' offices had opened, which
shaded in its turn the fronts of the stores and the walkway beneath; and
now was gone even the balcony itself with its wrought-iron balustrade on
which in the long summer afternoons the lawyers would prop their feet to
talk; and the continuous iron chain looping from wooden post to post along
the circumference of the courthouse yard, for the farmers to hitch their
teams to; and the public watering trough where they could water them,
because gone was the last wagon to stand on the Square during the spring
and summer and fall Saturdays and trading-days, and not only the Square
but the streets leading into it were paved now, with fixed signs of
interdiction and admonition applicable only to something capable of moving
faster than thirty miles an hour; and now the last forest tree was gone
from the courthouse yard too, replaced by formal synthetic shrubs
contrived and schooled in Wisconsin greenhouses, and in the courthouse
(the city hall too) a courthouse and city hall gang, in miniature of
course (but that was not its fault but the fault of the city's and the
county's size and population and wealth) but based on the pattern of
Chicago and Kansas City and Boston and Philadelphia (and which, except for
its minuscularity, neither Philadelphia nor Boston nor Kansas City nor
Chicago need have blushed at) which every three or four years would try
again to raze the old courthouse in order to build a new one, not that
they did not like the old one nor wanted the new, but because the new one
would bring into the town and county that much more increment of unearned
314 WILLIAM FAULKNER
And now the paint is preparing to weather from an anti-tank howitzer
squatting on rubber tires on the opposite flank of the Confederate monument~
and gone now from the fronts of the stores are the old brick made of native
clay in Sutpen's architect's old molds, replaced now by sheets of glass
taller than a man and longer than a wagon and team, pressed intact in
Pittsburgh factories and framing interiors bathed now in one sbadowless
corpse-glare of fluorescent light; and, now and at last, the last of silence
too: the county's hollow inverted air one resonant boom and ululance of
radio: and thus no more Yoknapatawpha's air nor even Mason and Dixon's air,
but America's: the patter of comedians, the baritone screams of female
vocalists, the babbling pressure to buy and buy and still buy arriving more
instantaneous than light, two thousand miles from New York and Los Angeles;
one air, one nation: the shadowless fluorescent corpse-glare bathing the
sons and daughters of men and women, Negro and white both, who were born to
and who passed all their lives in denim overalls and calico, haggling by
cash or the install ment-pl an for garments copied last week out of Harper's
Bazaar or Esquire in East Side sweat-shops: because an entire generation of
farmers has vanished, not just from Yoknapatawpha's but from Mason and
Dixon's earth: the selfconsumer: the machine which displaced the man because
the exodus of the man left no one to drive the mule, now that the machine
was threatening to extinguish the mule; time was when the mule stood in
droves at daylight in the plantation mule-lots across the plantation road
from the serried identical ranks of two-room shotgun shacks in which lived
in droves with his family the Negro tenant- or share- or furnish-hand who
bridled him (the mule) in the lot at sunup and followed him through the
plumb-straight monotony of identical furrows and back to the lot at sundown,
with (the man) one eye on where the mule was going and the other eye on his
(the mule's) heels; both gone now: the one, to the last of the forty- and
fifty- and sixty-acre hill farms inaccessible from unmarked dirt roads, the
other to New York and Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles ghettos, or nine
out of ten of him that is, the tenth one mounting from the handles of a plow
to the springless bucket seat of a tractor, dispossessing and displacing the
other nine just as the tractor had dispossessed and displaced the other
eighteen mules to whom that nine would have been complement; then Warsaw and
Dunkerque displaced that tenth in his turn, and now the planter's not-yet-
drafted son drove the tractor: and then Pearl Harbor and Tobruk and Utah
Beach displaced that son, leaving the planter himself on the seat of the
tractor, for a little while that is
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 315
--or so he thought, forgetting that victory or defeat both are bought at
the same exorbitant prices of change and alteration; one nation, one
world: young men who had never been farther from Yoknapatawpha County than
Memphis or New Orleans (and that not often), now talked glibly of street
intersections in Asiatic and European capitals, returning no more to
inherit the long monotonou endless unendable furrows of Mississippi
cottor, field- living now (with now a wife and next year a wife and child
and the year after that a wife and children) in automobile trailers or
G.I. barracks on the outskirts of liberal arts colleges, and the father
and now grandfather himself still driving the tractor across the gradually
diminishing fields between the long looping skeins of electric lines
bringing electric power from the Appalachian mountains, and the subterrene
steel veins bringing the natural gas from the Western plains, to the
little lost lonely farmhouses glittering and gleaming with automatic
stoves and washing machines and television antennae;
One nation: no longer anywhere, not even in Yoknapatawpha County, one last
irreconcilable fastness of stronghold from which to enter the United
States, because at last even the last old sapless indomitable unvanquished
widow or maiden aunt had died and the old deathless Lost Cause had become
a faded (though still select) social club or caste, or form of behavior
when you remembered to observe it on the occasions when young men from
Brooklyn, exchange students at Mississippi or Arkansas or Texas
Universities, vended tiny Confederate battle flags among the thronged
Saturday afternoon ramps of football stadia; one world: the tank gun: cap-
tured from a regiment of Germans in an African desert by a regiment of
Japanese in American uniforms, whose mothers and fathers at the time were
in a California detention camp for enemy aliens, and carried (the gun)
seven thousand miles back to be set halfway between, as a sort of
secondary flying buttress to a memento of Shiloh and The Wilderness; one
universe, one cosmos: contained in one America: one towering frantic
edifice poised like a card-house.over the abyss of the mortgaged
generations; one boom, one peace: one swirling rocket-roar filling the
glittering zenith as with golden featherg, until the vast hollow sphere
of his air, the vast and terrible burden beneath which he tries to stand
erect and lift his battered and indomitable head-the very substance in
which he lives and, lacking which, he would vanish in a matter of
seconds~is murmurous with his fears and terrors and disclaimers and
repudiations and his aspirations and dreams
316 WILLIAM FAULKNER
and his baseless hopes, bouncing back at him in radar waves from the
And still-the old jail-endured, sitting in its rumorless culde-sac, its
almost seasonless backwater in the middle of that rush and roar of civic
progress and social alteration and change like a collarless (and reasonably
clean: merely dingy: with a day's stubble and no garters to his socks) old
man sitting in his suspenders and stocking feet, on the back kitchen steps
inside a walled courtyard; actually not isolated by location so much as
insulated by obsolescence: on the way out of course (to disappear from the
surface of the earth along with the rest of the town on the day when all
America, after cutting down all the trees and leveling the hills and moun-
tains with bulldozers, would have to move underground to make room for, get
out of the way of, the motor cars) but like the track-walker in the tunnel,
the thunder of the express mounting behind him, who finds himself opposite
a niche or crack exactly his size in the wall's living and impregnable rock,
and steps into it, inviolable and secure while destruction roars past and on
and away, grooved ineluctably to the spidery rails of its destiny and
destination; not even-the jail-worth selling to the United States for some
matching allocation out of the federal treasury; not even (so fast, so far,
was Progress) any more a real pawn, let alone knight or rook, on the
County's political board, not even plum in true worth of the word: simply a
modest sinecure for the husband of someone's cousin, who had failed not as
a father but merely as a fourth-rate farmer or day-laborer;
It survived, endured; it had its inevictable place in the town and the
country; it was even still adding modestly not just to its but to the town's
and the county's history too: somewhere behind that dingy brick faqade,
between the old durable hand-molded brick and the cracked
creosote-impregnated plaster of the inside walls (though few in the town or
county any longer knew that they were there) were the old notched and
mortised logs which (this, the town and county did remember; it was part of
its legend) had held someone who might have been Wiley Rarpe; during that
summer of 1864, the federal brigadier who had fired the Square and the
courthouse had used the jail as his provost-marshal's guard-house; and even
children in high school remembered how the jail had been host to the
Governor of the State while he discharged a thirty-day sentence for contempt
of court for refusing to testify in a paternity suit brought against one of
his lieutenants: but isolate, even its legend and record and history,
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 317
indisputable in authenticity yet a little oblique, elliptic or perhaps
just ellipsoid, washed thinly over with a faint quiet cast of apocryphy:
because there were new people in the town now, strangers, outlanders,
living in new minute glass-walled houses set as neat and orderly and
antiseptic as cribs in a nursery ward, in new subdivisions named Fairfield
or Longwood or Halcyon Acres which had once been the lawn or back yard or
kitchen garden of the old residences (the old obsolete columned houses
still standing among them like old horses surged suddenly out of slumber
in the middle of a flock of sheep), who had never seen the jail; that is,
they had looked at it in passing, they knew where it was, when their kin
or friends or acquaintances from the East or North or California visited
them or passed through Jefferson on the way to New Orleans or Florida,
they could even repeat some of its legend or history to them: but they had
had no contact with it; it was not a part of their lives; they had the
automatic stoves and furnaces and milk deliveries and lawns the size of
installment-plan rugs; they had never had to go to the jail on the morning
after Juneteenth or July Fourth or Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year's
(or for that matter, on almost any Monday morning) to pay the fine of
houseman or gardener or handyman so that he could hurry on home (still
wearing his hangover or his barely-stanched razor-slashes) and milk the
cow or clean the furnace or mow the lawn;
So only the old citizens knew the jail any more, not old people but old
citizens: men and women old not in years but in the constancy of the town,
or against that constancy, concordant (not coeval of course, the town's
date was a century and a quarter ago now, but in accord against that
continuation) with that thin durable continuity born a hundred and
twenty-five years ago out of a handful of bandits captured by a -drunken
militia squad, and a bitter ironical incorruptible wilderness mail-rider,
and a monster wrought-iron padlockthat steadfast and durable and
unhurryable continuity against or across which the vain and glittering
ephemerae of progress and alteration washed in substanceless repetitive
evanescent scarless waves, like the wash and glare of the neon sign on
what was still known as the Holston House diagonally opposite, which would
fade with each dawn from the old brick walls of the jail and leave no
trace; only the old citizens still knew it: the intractable and
obsolescent of the town who still insisted on wood-burning ranges and cows
and vegetable gardens and handymen who had to be taken out of hock on the
mornings after Saturday nights and holidays; or the ones who actually
spent the Saturday- and holiday-nights inside the
318 WILLIAM FAULKNER
barred doors and windows of the cells or bullpen for drunkenness or fighting
or gambling-the servants, housemen and gardeners and handymen, who would be
extracted the next morning by their white folks, and the others (what the
town knew as the New Negro, independent of that community) who would sleep
there every night beneath the thin ruby checker-barred wash and fade of the
hotel sign, while they worked their fines out on the street; and the County,
since its cattle-thieves and moonshiners went to trial from there, and its
murderers-by electricity now (so fast, that fast, was Progress)-to eternity
from there; in fact it was still, not a factor perhaps, but at least an
integer, a cipher, in the county's political establishment; at least still
used by the Board of Supervisors, if not as a lever, at least as something
like Punch's stuffed club, not intended to break bones, not aimed to leave
any permanent scars;
So only the old knew it, the irreconcilable Jeffersonians and
Yoknapatawphians who had (and without doubt firmly intended to continue to
have) actual personal dearings with it on the blue Monday mornings after
holidays, or during the semi-yearly terms of Circuit or Federal Court:-until
suddenly you, a stranger, an outlander say from the East or the North or the
Far West, passing through the little town by simple accident, or perhaps
relation or acquaintance or friend of one of the outland families which had
moved into one of the pristine and recent subdivisions, yourself turning out
of your way to fumble among road signs and filling stations out of frank
curiosity, to try to learn, comprehend, understand what had brought your
cousin or friend or acquaintance to elect to live here-not specifically
here, of course, not specifically Jefferson, but such as here, such as Jeff
erson-suddenly you would realise that something curious was happening or had
happened here: that instead of dying off as they shotild as time passed, it
was as though these old irreconcilables were actually increasing in number;
as though with each interment of one, two more shared that vacancy: where in
1900, only thirty-five years afterward, there could not have been more than
two or three capable of it, either by knowledge or memory of leisure, or
even simple willingness and inclination, now, in 1951, eighty-six years
afterward, they could be counted in dozens (and in 1965, a hundred years
afterward, in hundreds because-by now you had already begun to understand
why your kin or friend or acquaintance had elected to come to such as this
with his family and call it his life-by then the children of that second
outland invasion following a war, would also have become not just
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 319
pians but Jeffersonians and Yoknapatawphians: by which time-who knows?-not
merely the pane, but the whole window, perhaps the entire wall, may have
been removed and embalmed intact into a museum by an historical, or anyway
a cultural, club of ladies-why, by that time, they may not even know, or
even need to know: only that the window-pane bearing the girl's name and
the date is that old, which is enough; has lasted that long: one small
rectangle of wavy, crudely-pressed, almost opaque glass, bearing a few
faint scratches apparently no more durable than the thin dried slime left
by the passage of a snail, yet which'has endured a hundred years) who are
capable and willing too to quit whatever they happen to be doing-sitting
on the last of the wooden benches beneath the last of the locust and
chinaberry trees among the potted conifers of the new age dotting the
courthouse yard, or in the chairs along the shady sidewalk before the
Holston House, where a breeze always blows-to lead you across the street
and into the jail and (with courteous neighborly apologies to the jailor's
wife stirring or turning on the stove the peas and grits and
side-meat-purchased in bargain-lot quantities by shrewd and indefatigable
peditation from store to store-which she will serve to the prisoners for
dinner or supper at so much a head-plate-pay able by the County, which is
no mean factor in the sinecure of her husband's incumbency) into the
kitchen and so to the cloudy pane bearing the faint scratches which, after
a moment, you will descry to be a name and a date;
Not at first, of course, but after a moment, a second, because at first
you would be a little puzzled, a little impatient because of your
illness-at-ease from having been dragged without warning or preparation
into the private kitchen of a strange woman cooking a meal; you would
think merely What? So what? annoyed and even a little outraged, until
suddenly, even while you were thinking it, something has already happened:
the faint frail illegible meaningless even inference-less scratching on
the ancient poor-quality glass you stare at, has moved, under your eyes,
even while you stared at it, coalesced, seeming actually to have entered
into another sense than vision: a scent, a whisper, filling that hot
cramped strange room already fierce with the sound and reek of frying
pork-fat: the two of them in conjunction-the old milky obsolete glass, and
the scratches on it: that tender ownerless obsolete girl's name and the
old dead date in April almost a century ago-speaking, murmuring, back
from, out of, across from, a time as old as lavender, older than album or
stereopticon, as old as daguerreotype itself;
320 WILLIAM FAULKNER
And being a stranger and a guest would have been enough, since, a stranger
and a guest, you would have shown the simple courtesy and politeness of
asking the questions naturally expected of you by the host or anyway
volunteer guide, who had dropped whatever he was doing (even if that had
been no more than sitting with others of his like on a bench in a
courthouse yard or on the sidewalk before a hotel) in order to bring you
here; not to mention your own perfectly natural desire for, not revenge
perhaps, but at least compensation, restitution, viqdication, for the
shock and annoyance of having been brought here without warning or
preparation, into the private quarters of a strange woman engaged in
something as intimate as cooking a meal; but by now you had not only begun
to understand why your kin or friend or acquaintance had elected, not
Jefferson but such as Jefferson, for his life, but you had heard that
voice, that whisper, murmur, frailer than the scent of lavender, yet (for
that second anyway) louder than all the seethe and fury of frying fat; so
you ask the questions, not only which are expected of you, but whose
answers you yourself must have if you are to get back into your car and
fumble with any attention and concentration among the road signs and
filling stations, to get on to wherever it is you had started when you
stopped by chance or accident in Jefferson for an hour or a day or a
night, and the hostguide-answers them, to the best of his ability out of
the town's composite heritage of remembering that long back, told,
repeated, inherited to him by his father; or rather, his mother: from her
mother: or better still, to him when he himself was a child, direct from
his great-aunt: the spinsters, maiden and childless out of a time when
there were too many women because too many of the young men were maimed
or dead: the indomitable and undefeated, maiden progenitresses of spinster
and childless descendants still capable of rising up and stalking out in
the middle of Gone With the Wind;
And again one sense assumes the office of two or three: not only hearing,
listening, and seeing too, but you are even standing on the same spot, the
same boards she did that day she wrote her name into the window and on the
other one three years later watching and hearing through and beyond that
faint fragile defacement the sudden rush and thunder: the dust: the
crackle and splatter of pistols: then the face, gaunt, battle-dirty,
stubbled-over; urgent of course, but merely harried, harassed; not
defeated, turned for a fleeing instant across the turmoil and the fury,
then gone: and still the girl in the window (the guide host-has never said
one or the other; without doubt in the town's remembering after a hundred
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 321
years it has changed that many times from blonde to dark and back to
blonde again: which doesn't matter, since in your own remembering that
tender mist and vail will be forever blonde) not even waiting: musing: a
year, and still not even waiting: meditant, not even unimpatient: just
patienceless, in the sense that blindness and zenith are colorless; until
at last the mule, not out of the long northeastern panorama of defeat and
dust and fading smoke, but drawn out of it by that impregnable, that
invincible, that incredible, that terrifying passivity, coming at that one
fatigueless unflagging jog all the way from Virginia-the mule which was
a better mule in 1865 than the blood mare had been a horse in '-2 and '-3
and '-4, for the reason that this was now 1865, and the man, still gaunt
and undefeated: merely harried and urgent and short of time to get on to
Alabama and see the condition of his farm-or (for that matter) if be still
had a farm, and now the girl, the fragile and workless girl not only
incapable of milking a cow but of whom it was never even demanded,
required, suggested, that she substitute for her father in drying the
dishes, mounting pillion on a mule behind a paroled cavalry subaltern out
of a surrendered army who had swapped his charger for a mule and the sabre
of his rank and his defeatless pride for a stocking full of seed corn,
whom she had not known or even spoken to long enough to have learned his
middle name or his preference in food, or told him hers, and no time for
that even now: riding, hurrying toward a country she had never seen, to
begin a life which was not even simple frontier, engaged only with
wilderness and shoeless savages and the tender hand of God, but one which
had been rendered into a desert (assuming that it was still there at all
to be returned to) by the iron and fire of civilization;
Which was all your bost (guide) could tell you, since that was all he
knew, inherited, inheritable from the town: which was enough, more than
enough in fact, since all you needed was the face framed in its blonde and
delicate vail behind the scratched glass; yourself, the stranger, the
outlander from New England or the prairies or the Pacific Coast, no longer
come by the chance or accident of kin or friend or acquaintance or
roadmap, but drawn too from ninety years away by that incredible and
terrifying passivity, watching in your turn through and beyond that old
milk-dim disfigured glass that shape, that delicate frail and useless bone
and flesh departing pillion on a mule without one backward look, to the
reclaiming of an abandoned and doubtless even ravaged (perhaps even
usurped) Alabama hill farm-being lifted onto the mule (the first time he
touched her probably, except to put the ring
322 WILLIAM FAULKNER
on: not to prove nor even to feet, touch, if there actually was a girl
under the calico and the shawls; there was no time for that yet; but
simply to get her up so they could start), to ride a hundred miles to
become the farmless mother of farmers (she would bear a dozen, all boys,
herself no older, still fragile, still workless among the churns and
stoves and brooms and stacks of wood which even a woman could split into
kindlings; unchanged), bequeathing to them in their matronymic the
heritage of that invincible inviolable ineptitude;
Then suddenly, you realise that that was nowhere near enough, not for that
face-bridehood, motherhood, grandmotherhood, then widowhood and at last
the grave-the long peaceful connubial progress toward matriarchy in a
rocking chair nobody else was allowed to sit in, then a headstone in a
country churchyard-not for that passivity, that stasis, that invincible
captaincy of soul which didn't even need to wait but simply to be, breathe
tranquilly, and take food-infinite not only in capacity but in scope too:
that face, one maiden muse which had drawn a man out of the running pell
mell of a cavalry battle, a whole year around the long iron perimeter of
duty and oath, from Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, across Tennessee
into Virginia and up to the fringe of Pennsylvania before it curved back
into its closing fade along the headwaters of the Appomattox river and at
last removed from him its iron hand: where, a safe distance at last into
the rainy woods from the picket lines and the furled flags and the stacked
muskets, a handful of men leading spent horses, the still-warm pistols
still loose and quick for the hand in the unstrapped scabbards, gathered
in the failing twilight-privates and captains, sergeants and corporals and
subalterns-talking a little of one last desperate cast southward where (by
last report) Johnston was still intact, knowing that they would not, that
they were done not only with vain resistance but with indomitability too;
already departed this morning in fact for Texas, the West, New Mexico: a
new land even if not yet (spent too-like the horses-from the long
harassment and anguish of remaining indomitable and undefeated) a new
hope, putting behind them for good and all the loss of both: the young
dead bride-drawing him (that face) even back from this too, from no longer
having to remain undefeated too: who swapped the charger for the mule and
the sabre for the stocking of seed corn: back across the whole ruined land
and the whole disastrous year by that virgin inevictable passivity more
inescapable than lodestar;
Not that face; that was nowhere near enough: no symbol
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 323
there of connubial matriarchy, but fatal instead with all insatiate and
deathless sterility; spouseless, barren, and undescended; not even
demanding more than that: simply requiring it, requiring all-Lilith's lost
and insatiable face drawing the substance-the will and hope and dream and
imagination-of all men (you too: yourself and the host too) into that one
bright fragile net and snare; not even to be caught, over-flung, by one
single unerring cast of it, but drawn to watch in patient and thronging
turn the very weaving of the strangling golden strands-drawing the two of
you from almost a hundred years away in your turn-yourself the stranger,
the outlander with a B.A. or (perhaps even) M.A. from Harvard or
Northwestern or Stanford, passing through Jefferson by chance or accident
on the way to somewhere else, and the host who in three generations has
never been out of Yoknapatawpha further than a few prolonged Saturday
nights in Memphis or New Orleans, who has heard of Jenny Lind, not because
he has heard of Mark Twain and Mark Twain spoke well of her, but for the
same reason that Mark Twain spoke well of her: not that she sang songs,
but that she sang them in the old West in the old days, and the man
sanctioned by public affirmation to wear a pistol openly in his belt is
an inevictable part of the Missouri and the Yoknapatawpha dream too, but
never of Duse or Bernhardt or Maximilian of Mexico, let alone whether the
Emperor of Mexico even ever had a wife or not (saying-the host-: 'You
mean, she was one of them? maybe even that emperor's wifeT and you: 'Why
not? Wasn't she a Jefferson girl?)'-to stand, in this hot strange little
room furious with frying fat, among the roster and chronicle, the
deathless murmur of the sublime and deathless names and the deathless
faces, the faces omnivorous and insatiable and forever incontent:
demon-nun and angel-witch; empress, siren, Erinys: Mistinguette, too,
invincible possessed of a half-century more of years than the mere three
score or so she bragged and boasted, for you to choose among, which one
she was-not might have been, nor even could have been, but was: so vast,
so limitless in capacity is man's imagination to disperse and burn away
the rubble-dross of fact and probability, leaving only truth and
dream-then gone, you are outside again, in the hot noon sun: late; you
have already wasted too much time: to unfumble among the road signs and
filling stations to get back onto a highway you know, back into the United
States; not that it matters, since you know again now that there is no
time: no space: no distance: a fragile and workless scratching almost
depthless in a sheet of old barely transparent glass, and (all you had to
do was look
324 WILLIAM FAULKNER
at it a while; all you have to do now is remember it) there is the clear
undistanced voice as though out of the delicate anterma-skeins of radio,
further than empress's throne, than splendid insatiation, even than
matriarch's peaceful rocking chair, across the vast instantaneous
intervention, from the long long time ago: 'Listen, stranger; this was
myself: this was V
Interior, the Jail. 10:30 A.M. March twelfth.
The common room, or 'bull-pen'. It is on the second floor. A heavy barred
door at left is the entrance to it, to the entire cell-block, which-the
cells-are indicated by a row of steel doors, each with its own individual
small barred window, lining the right wall. A narrow passage at the far end
of the right wall leads to more cells. A single big heavily barred window in
the rear wall looks down into the street. It is mid-morning of a sunny day.
The door, left, opens with a heavy clashing of the steel lock, and swings
backward and outward. Temple enters, followed by Stevens and the Jailor.
Temple has changed her dress, but wears the fur coat and the same hat.
Stevens is dressed exactly as he was in Act Two. The Jailor is a typical
small-town turnkey, in shirt-sleeves and no necktie, carrying the heavy
keys on a big iron ring against his leg as a farmer carries a lantern, say.
He is drawing the door to behind him as he enters.
Temple stops just inside the room. Stevens perforce stops also. The Jailor
closes the door and locks it on the inside with another clash and clang of
steel, and turns.
Well, Lawyer, singing school will be over after tonight, huh?
You been away, you see. You dont know about this, you aint up with
(he stops himself quickly; he is about to commit what he
would call a very bad impoliteness, what in the tenets of
his class and kind would be the most grave of gaucherie and
bad taste: referring directly to a recent bereavement in the
presence of the bereaved, particularly one of
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 325
this nature, even though by this time tomorrow the State itself
will have made restitution with the perpetrator's life. He tries
to rectify it)
Not that I wouldn't too, if I'd a been the ma of the very-
(stopping himself again; this is getting worse than ever; now he
not only is looking at Stevens, but actually addressing him)
Every Sunday night, and every night since last Sunday except last night-come
to think of it, Lawyer, where was you last night? We missed you-Lawyer here
and Na-the prisoner have been singing hymns in her cell. The first time, he
just stood out there on the sidewalk while she stood in that window yonder.
Which was all right, not doing no harm, just singing church hymns. Because
all of us home folks here in Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County both know
Lawyer Stevens, even if some of us might have thought he got a little out of
(again it is getting out of hand; he realises it, but there is
nothing he can do now; he is like someone walking a foot-log: all
he can do is move as fast as he dares until he can reach solid
ground or at least pass another log to leap to)
defending a nigger murderer, let alone when it was his own niece was mur-
(and reaches another log and leaps to it without stopping: at
least one running at right angles for a little distance into
-maybe suppose some stranger say, some durn Yankee tourist, happened to be
passing through in a car, when we get enough durn criticism from Yankees
like it is-besides, a white man standing out there in the cold, while a
durned nigger murderer is up here all warm and comfortable; so it happened
that me and Mrs Tubbs hadn't went to prayer meeting that night, so we
invited hirn to come in; and to tell the truth, we come to enjoy it too.
Because as soon as they found out there wasn't going to be no objection to
326 WILLIAM FAULKNER
the other nigger prisoners (I got five more right now, but I taken
them out back and locked them up in the coal house so you could have
some privacy) joined in too, and by the second or third Sunday night,
folks were stopping along the street to listen to them instead of
going to regular church. Of course, the other niggers would just be
in and out over Saturday and Sunday night for fighting or gambling or
vagrance or drunk, so just about the time they would begin to get in
tune, the whole choir would be a complete turnover. In fact, I had a
idea at one time to have the Marshal comb the nigger dives and joints
not for drunks and .-amblers, but basses and baritones.
(he starts to laugh, guffaws once, then catches himself;
he looks at Temple with something almost gentle, almost
articulate, in his face, taking (as though) by the borns,
facing frankly and openly the dilemma of his own in-
Excuse me, Mrs Stevens. I talk too much. All I want to say is, this
whole county, not a man or woman, wife or mother either in the whole
state of Mississippi, that dont-dont feel-
(stopping again, looking at Temple)
There I am, still at it, still talking too much.
Wouldn't you like for Mrs Tubbs to bring you up a cup of coffee or
maybe a Coca-Cola? She's usually got a bottle or two of sody pop in
No thank you, Mr Tubbs. If we could just see Nancy-
(turning) Sure, sure.
He crosses toward the rear, right, and disappears into the passage.
The blindfold again. Out of a Coca-Cola bottle this time or a cup of
Stevens takes the same pack of cigarettes from his overcoat pocket, though
Temple has declined before he can even offer them.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 327
No, thanks. My hide's toughened now. I hardly feel it. People. They're
really innately, inherently gentle and compassionate and kind. That's
what wrings, wrenches . . . something. Your entrails, maybe. The
member of the mob who holds up the whole ceremony for seconds or even
minutes while he dislodges a family of bugs or lizards from the log
he is about to put on the fire-
(there is the clash of another steel door off-stage as the
Jailor unlocks Nancy's cell. Temple pauses, turns and
listens, then continues rapidly)
And now I've got to say 'I forgive you, sister' to the nigger who
murdered my baby. No: it's worse: I've even got to transpose it, turn
it around. I've got to start off my new life being forgiven again. How
can I say that? Tell me. How can I?
She stops again and turns farther as Nancy enters from the rear alcove,
followed by the Jailor, who passes Nancy and comes on, carrying the ring
of keys once more like a farmer's lantern.
Okay, Lawyer. How much,time you want? Thirty minutes? an hour?
Thirty minutes should be enough.
(still moving toward the exit, left)
You sure you dont want that coffee or a Coca-Cola.? I could bring you
up a rocking chair-
Thank you just the same, Mr Tubbs.
(at the exit door, unlocking it) Thirty minutes, then.
He unlocks the door, opens it, exits, closes and locks it behind him; the
lock clashes, his footsteps die away. Nancy has slowed and stopped where
the Jailor passed her; she now stands about six feet to the rear of Temple
and Stevens. Her face is calm,
328 WILLIAM FAULKNER
unchanged. She is dressed exactly as before, except for the apron; she
still wears the hat.
You been to California, they tell me. I used to think maybe I would
get there too, some day. But I waited too late to get around to it.
So did 1. Too late and too long. Too late when I went to California,
and too late when I came back. That's it: too late and too long, not
only for you, but for me too; already too late when both of us should
have got around to running, like from death itself, from the very air
anybody breathed named Drake or Mannigoe.
Only, we didn't. And you come back, yesterday evening. I heard that
too. And I know where you were last night, you and him both.
(indicating Stevens) You went to see the Mayor.
Oh, God, the mayor. No: the Governor, the Big Man himself, in Jackson.
Of course; you knew that as soon as you realised that Mr Gavin
wouldn't be here last night to help you sing, didn't you? In fact, the
only thing you cant know about it is what the Governor told us. Yon
cant know that yet, no matter how clairvoyant you are, because we-the
Governor and Mr Gavin and 1-were not even talking about you; the
reason 1--we had to go and see him was not to beg or plead or bind or
loose, but because it would be my right, my duty, my privilege-Dont
look at me, Nancy.
I'm not looking at you. Besides, it's all right. I know what the
Governor told you. Maybe I could have told you last night what he
would say, and saved you the trip. Maybe I ought to have-sent you the
word as soon as I heard you were back home, and knowed what you and
(again she indicates Stevens with that barely discernible
movement of her head, her hands still folded across her
middle as though
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 329
she still wore the absent apron) -both would probably be up to.
Only, I didn't. But it's all right-
Why didn't you? Yes, look at me. This is worse, but the other is terrible.
TEMPLE Why didn't you send me the word?
Because that would have been hoping: the hardest think of all to break, get
rid of, let go of, the last thing of all poor sinning man will turn aloose.
Maybe it's because that's all he's got. Leastways, he holds onto it, hangs
onto it. Even with salvation laying right in his hand, and all he's got to
do is, choose between it; even with salvation already in his hand and all he
needs is just to shut his fingers, old sin is still too strong for him, and
sometimes before he even knows it, he has throwed salvation away just
grabbling back at hoping. But it's all right-
You mean, when you have salvation, you dont have hope?
You dont even need it. All you need, all you have to do, is just believe. So
STEVENS Believe what?
Just believe.-So maybe it's just as well that all I did last night, was just
to guess where you all went. But I know now, and I know what the Big Man
told you. And it's all right. I finished all that a long time back, that
same day in the judge's court. No: before that even: in the nursery that
night, before I even lifted my hand-
(convulsively) Hush. Hush.
All right. I've hushed. Because it's all right. I can get low for Jesus too.
I can get low for Him too.
330 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Hush! Hush! At least, don't blaspheme. But who am I to challenge the
language you talk about Him in, when He Himself certainly cant
challenge it, since that's the only language He arranged for you to
What's wrong with what I said? Jesus is a man too. He's got to be.
Menfolks listens to somebody because of what he says. Women dont. They
dont care what he said. They listens because of what he is.
Then let Him talk to me. I can get low for Him too, if that's all He
wants, demands, asks. I'll do anything He wants if He'll just tell me
what to do. No: how to do it. I know what to do, what I must do, what
I've got to do. But how? We-I thought that all I would have to do
would be to come back and go to the Big Man and tell him it wasn't you
who killed my baby, but I did it eight years ago that day when I
slipped out the back door of that train, and that would be all. But we
were wrong. Then I-we thought that all it would be was, for me just to
come back here and tell you you had to die; to come all the way two
thousand miles from California, to sit up all night driving to Jackson
and talking for an hour or two and then driving back, to tell you you
had to die: not just to bring you the news that you had to die,
because any messenger could do that, but just so it could be me that
would have to sit up all night and talk for the hour or two hours and
then bring you the news back. You know: not to save you, that wasn't
really concerned in it: but just for me, just for the suffering and
the paying: a little more suffering simply because there was a little
more time left for a little more of it, and we might as well use it
since we were already paying for it; and that would be all; it would
be finished then. But we were wrong again. That was all, only for you.
You wouldn't be any worse off if I had never come back from
California. You couldn't even be any worse off. And this time
tomorrow, you won't be anything at all. But not me. Because there's
tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. All you've got to do is, just to
die. But let Him tell me what to do. No: that's wrong; I know what to
do, what I'm going to do; I found that out that same night in the
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 331
too. But let Him tell me how. How? Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and still
Trust in Him.
Trust in Him. Look what He has already done to me. Which is all right; maybe
I deserved it; at least I'm not the one to criticize or dictate to Him. But
look what He did to you. Yet you can still say that. Why? Why? Is it because
there isn't any thing else?
I dont know. But you got to trust Him. Maybe that's your pay for the
Whose suffering, and whose pay? Just each one's for his own?
Everybody's. All suffering. All poor sinning man's.
The salvation of the world is in man's suffering. Is that it?
NANCY Yes, sir.
I dont know. Maybe when folks are suffering, they will be too busy to get
into devilment, wont have time to worry and meddle one another.
But why must it be suffering? He's omnipotent, or so they tell us. Why
couldn't He have invented something else? Or, if it's got to be suffering,
why cant it be just your own? Why cant you buy back your own sins with your
own agony? Why do you and my little baby both have to suffer just because I
decided to go to a baseball game eight years ago? Do you have to suffer
everybody else's anguish just to believe in God? What kind of God is it that
has to blackmail His customers with the whole world's grief and ruin?
He dont want you to suffer. He dont like suffering neither. But He cant help
Himself. He's like a man that's got too many mules. All of a sudden one
332 WILLIAM FAULKNER
ing, he looks around and sees more mules than he can count at one time
even, let alone find work for, and all he knows is that they are his,
because at least dont nobody else want to claim them, and that the
pasture fence was still holding them last night where they cant harm
themselves nor nobody else the least possible. And that when Monday
morning comes, he can walk in there and hem some of them up and even
catch them if he's careful about not never turning his back on the ones
he aint hemmed up. And that, once the gear is on them, they will do his
work and do it good, only he's still got to be careful about getting too
close to them, or forgetting that another one of them is behind him, even
when he is feeding them. Even when it's Saturday noon again, and he is
turning them back into the pasture, where even a mule can know it's got
until Monday morning anyway to run free in mule sin and mule pleasure.
STEVENS You have got to sin, too?
You aint got to. You cant help it. And He knows that. But you can suffer.
And He knows that too. He dont tell you not to sin, He just asks you not
to. And He dont tell you to suffer. But He gives you the chance. He gives
you the best He can think of, that you are capable of doing. And He will
STEVENS You too? A murderess? In heaven?
NANCY I can work.
"ne harp, the raiment, the singing, may not be for Nancy Mannigoe-not
now. But there's still the work to be done-the washing and sweeping,
maybe even the children to be tended and fed and kept from hurt and harm
and out from under the grown folks' feet? (he pauses a moment. Nancy says
nothing, immobile, looking at no one)
Maybe even that baby?
(Nancy doesn't move, stir, not looking at anything
apparently, her face still, bemused, expressionless)
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 333
That one too, Nancy? Because you loved that baby, even at the very moment
when you raised your hand against it, knew that there was nothing left but
to raise your hand?
(Nancy dosen't answer nor stir) A heaven where that little
child will remember nothing of your hands but gentleness
because now this earth will have been nothing but a dream that
didn't matter? Is that it?
Or maybe not that baby, not mine, because, since I destroyed mine myself
when I slipped out the back end of that train that day eight years ago,
I will need about all the forgiving and forgetting that one sixmonths-old
baby is capable of. But the other one: yours: that you told me about, that
you were carrying six months gone, and you went to the picnic or dance or
frolic or fight or whatever it was, and the man kicked you in the stomach
and you lost it? That one too?
What? Its father kicked you in the stomach while you were pregnant?
NANCY I dont know.
STEVENS You dont know who kicked you?
I know that. I thought you meant its pa.
You mean, the man who kicked you wasn't even its
I dont know. Any of them might have been.
Any of them? You dont have any idea who its father
(looks at Stevens impatiently)
If you backed your behind into a buzz-saw, could you tell which tooth hit
(to Temple) What about that one?
334 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Will that one be there too, that never had a father and never was even
born, to forgive you? Is there a heaven for it to go to so it can forgive
you? Is there a heaven, Nancy?
I dont know. I believes.
I dont know. But I believes.
They all pause at the sound of feet approaching beyond the exit door, all
are looking at the door as the key clashes again in the lock and the door
swings out and the Jailor enters, drawing the door to behind him.
(locking the door)
Thirty minutes, Lawyer. You named it, you know: not me.
I'll come back later.
(turns and crosses toward them) Provided you dont put it off
too late. What I mean, if you wait until tonight to come
back, you might have some company; and if you put it off
until tomorrow, you wont have no client.
I found that preacher you want. He'll be here about sundown, he said. He
sounds like he might even be another good baritone. And you cant have too
many, especially as after tonight you wont need none, huh? No hard
feelings, Nancy. You committed about as horrible a crime as this county
ever seen, but you're fixing to pay the law for it, and if the child's
(he falters, almost pauses, catches himself and continues briskly, moving
again) There, talking too much again. Come on, if Lawyer's through with
you. You can start taking your time at daylight tomorrow morning, because
you might have a long hard trip.
REQUIEM FOR A NUN 335
He passes her and goes briskly on toward the alcove at rear. Nancy turns
(Nancy doesn't pause. Temple continues, rapidly)
What about me? Even if there is one and somebody waiting in it to
forgive me, there's still tomorrow and tomorrow. And suppose tomorrow
and tomorrow, and then nobody there, nobody waiting to forgive me-
(moving on after the Jailor) Believe.
Believe what, Nancy? Tell me.
She exits into the alcove behind the Jailor. The steel door off-stage
clangs, the key clashes. Then the Jailor reappears, approaches, and
crosses toward the exit. He unlocks the door and opens it out again,
Yes, sir. A long hard way. If I was ever fool enough to commit a
killing that would get my neck into a noose, the last thing I would
want to see would be a preacher. I'd a heap rather believe there
wasn't nothing after death than to risk the station where I was
probably going to get off.
(he waits, holding the door, looking back at them. Temple
stands motionless until Stevens touches her arm slightly.
Then she moves, stumbles slightly and infinitesimally, so
infinitesimally and so quickly recovered that the Jailor
has barely time to react to it, though he does so: with
quick concern, with that quality about him almost gentle,
almost articulate, turning from the door, even leaving it
open as he starts quickly toward her)
336 WILLIAM FAULKNER
Here; you set down on the bench; I'll get you a glass of water.
Durn it, Lawyer, why did you have to bring her-
(recovered) I'm all right. She walks steadily toward the
door. The Jailor watches her.
(walking steadily and rapidly
toward him and the door now) Yes. Sure.
(turning back toward the door) Okay. I sure dont blame
you. Durned if I see how even a murdering nigger can
stand this smell.
He passes on out the door and exits, invisible though still hold
ing the door and waiting to lock it.
Temple, followed by Stevens, approaches the door.
(off-stage: surprised) Howdy. Gowan, here's your wife
(walking) Anyone to save it. Anyone who wants it. If
there is none, I'm sunk. We all are. Doomed. Damned.
(walking) Of course we are. Hasn't He been telling us
that for going on two thousand years?
TEMPLE Coming. They exit. The door closes in, clashes, the
clash and clang of the key as the Jailor locks it again; the
three pairs of footsteps sound and begin to fade in the outer