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he called backtalk and developed a variety of corrections (which he recorded in his notebook) to reeducate them. He
complained they ate too much, rested too much, talked too much, which was certainly true compared to him, because
schoolteacher ate little, spoke less and rested not at all. Once he saw them playing--a pitching game--and his look
of deeply felt hurt was enough to make Paul D blink. He was as hard on his pupils as he was on them--except for the
For years Paul D believed schoolteacher broke into children what Garner had raised into men. And it was that that
made them run off. Now, plagued by the contents of his tobacco tin, he wondered how much difference there really
was between before schoolteacher and after. Garner called and announced them men--but only on Sweet Home, and
by his leave. Was he naming what he saw or creating what he did not? That was the wonder of Sixo, and even Halle; it
was always clear to Paul D that those two were men whether Garner said so or not. It troubled him that, concerning his
own manhood, he could not satisfy himself on that point. Oh, he did manly things, but was that Garner's gift or his own
will? What would he have been anyway--before Sweet Home--without Garner? In Sixo's country, or his mother's? Or,
God help him, on the boat? Did a whiteman saying it make it so? Suppose Garner woke up one morning and changed
his mind? Took the word away. Would they have run then? And if he didn't, would the Pauls have stayed there all their
lives? Why did the brothers need the one whole night to decide? To discuss whether they would join Sixo and Halle.
Because they had been isolated in a wonderful lie, dismissing Halle's and Baby Suggs' life before Sweet Home as bad
luck. Ignorant of or amused by Sixo's dark stories. Protected and convinced they were special.
Never suspecting the problem of Alfred, Georgia; being so in love with the look of the world, putting up with anything
and everything, just to stay alive in a place where a moon he had no right to was nevertheless there. Loving small and in
secret. His little love was a tree, of course, but not like Brother--old, wide and beckoning.
In Alfred, Georgia, there was an aspen too young to call sapling.
Just a shoot no taller than his waist. The kind of thing a man would cut to whip his horse. Song-murder and the aspen.
He stayed alive to sing songs that murdered life, and watched an aspen that confirmed it, and never for a minute did he
believe he could escape. Until it rained. Afterward, after the Cherokee pointed and sent him running toward blossoms,
he wanted simply to move, go, pick up one day and be somewhere else the next. Resigned to life without aunts, cousins,
children. Even a woman, until Sethe.
And then she moved him. Just when doubt, regret and every single unasked question was packed away, long after he
believed he had willed himself into being, at the very time and place he wanted to take root--she moved him. From
room to room. Like a rag doll.
Sitting on the porch of a dry-goods church, a little bit drunk and nothing much to do, he could have these thoughts.
Slow, what-if thoughts that cut deep but struck nothing solid a man could hold on to. So he held his wrists. Passing by
that woman's life, getting in it and letting it get in him had set him up for this fall. Wanting to live out his life with a
whole woman was new, and losing the feeling of it made him want to cry and think deep thoughts that struck nothing
solid. When he was drifting, thinking only about the next meal and night's sleep, when everything was packed tight in his
chest, he had no sense of failure, of things not working out. Anything that worked at all worked out. Now he wondered
what-all went wrong, and starting with the Plan, everything had. It was a good plan, too.
Worked out in detail with every possibility of error eliminated.
Sixo, hitching up the horses, is speaking English again and tells Halle what his Thirty-Mile Woman told him. That seven
Negroes on her place were joining two others going North. That the two others had done it before and knew the way.
That one of the two, a woman, would wait for them in the corn when it was high--one night and half of the next day she
would wait, and if they came she would take them to the caravan, where the others would be hidden.
That she would rattle, and that would be the sign. Sixo was going, his woman was going, and Halle was taking his whole
family. The two Pauls say they need time to think about it. Time to wonder where they will end up; how they will live.
What work; who will take them in; should they try to get to Paul F, whose owner, they remember, lived in something
called the "trace"? It takes them one evening's conversation to decide.
Now all they have to do is wait through the spring, till the corn is as high as it ever got and the moon as fat.
And plan. Is it better to leave in the dark to get a better start, or go at daybreak to be able to see the way better? Sixo
spits at the suggestion. Night gives them more time and the protection of color.
He does not ask them if they are afraid. He manages some dry runs to the corn at night, burying blankets and two knives
near the creek.
Will Sethe be able to swim the creek? they ask him. It will be dry, he says, when the corn is tall. There is no food to put
by, but Sethe says she will get a jug of cane syrup or molasses, and some bread when it is near the time to go. She only
wants to be sure the blankets are where they should be, for they will need them to tie her baby on her back and to cover
them during the journey. There are no clothes other than what they wear. And of course no shoes. The knives will help
them eat, but they bury rope and a pot as well. A good plan.
They watch and memorize the comings and goings of schoolteacher and his pupils: what is wanted when and where;
how long it takes. Mrs. Garner, restless at night, is sunk in sleep all morning.
Some days the pupils and their teacher do lessons until breakfast.
One day a week they skip breakfast completely and travel ten miles to church, expecting a large dinner upon their
return. Schoolteacher writes in his notebook after supper; the pupils clean, mend or sharpen tools. Sethe's work is the
most uncertain because she is on call for Mrs. Garner anytime, including nighttime when the pain or the weakness or
the downright loneliness is too much for her. So: Sixo and the Pauls will go after supper and wait in the creek for the
Thirty Mile Woman. Halle will bring Sethe and the three children before dawn--before the sun, before the chickens and
the milking cow need attention, so by the time smoke should be coming from the cooking stove, they will be in or near
the creek with the others. That way, if Mrs. Garner needs Sethe in the night and calls her, Sethe will be there to answer.
They only have to wait through the spring.
But. Sethe was pregnant in the spring and by August is so heavy with child she may not be able to keep up with the men,
who can carry the children but not her.
But. Neighbors discouraged by Garner when he was alive now feel free to visit Sweet Home and might appear in the
right place at the wrong time.
But. Sethe's children cannot play in the kitchen anymore, so she is dashing back and forth between house and quartersfidgety and frustrated trying to watch over them. They are too young for men's work and the baby girl is nine months
old. Without Mrs. Garner's help her work increases as do schoolteacher's demands.
But. After the conversation about the shoat, Sixo is tied up with the stock at night, and locks are put on bins, pens,
sheds, coops, the tackroom and the barn door. There is no place to dart into or congregate.
Sixo keeps a nail in his mouth now, to help him undo the rope when he has to.
But. Halle is told to work his extra on Sweet Home and has no call to be anywhere other than where schoolteacher tells
him. Only Sixo, who has been stealing away to see his woman, and Halle, who has been hired away for years, know what
lies outside Sweet Home and how to get there.
It is a good plan. It can be done right under the watchful pupils and their teacher.
But. They had to alter it--just a little. First they change the leaving.
They memorize the directions Halle gives them. Sixo, needing time to untie himself, break open the door and not disturb
the horses, will leave later, joining them at the creek with the Thirty-Mile Woman.
All four will go straight to the corn. Halle, who also needs more time now, because of Sethe, decides to bring her and
the children at night; not wait till first light. They will go straight to the corn and not assemble at the creek. The corn
stretches to their shoulders--it will never be higher. The moon is swelling. They can hardly harvest, or chop, or clear,
or pick, or haul for listening for a rattle that is not bird or snake. Then one midmorning, they hear it. Or Halle does and
begins to sing it to the others:
"Hush, hush. Somebody's calling my name. Hush, hush. Somebody's calling my name. O my Lord, O my Lord, what shall I
On his dinner break he leaves the field. He has to. He has to tell Sethe that he has heard the sign. For two successive
nights she has been with Mrs. Garner and he can't chance it that she will not know that this night she cannot be. The
Pauls see him go. From underneath Brother's shade where they are chewing corn cake, they see him, swinging along.
The bread tastes good. They lick sweat from their lips to give it a saltier flavor. Schoolteacher and his pupils are already
at the house eating dinner. Halle swings along. He is not singing now.
Nobody knows what happened. Except for the churn, that was the last anybody ever saw of Halle. What Paul D knew
was that Halle disappeared, never told Sethe anything, and was next seen squatting in butter. Maybe when he got to
the gate and asked to see Sethe, schoolteacher heard a tint of anxiety in his voice--the tint that would make him pick
up his ever-ready shotgun. Maybe Halle made the mistake of saying "my wife" in some way that would put a light in
schoolteacher's eye. Sethe says now that she heard shots, but did not look out the window of Mrs. Garner's bedroom.
But Halle was not killed or wounded that day because Paul D saw him later, after she had run off with no one's help;
after Sixo laughed and his brother disappeared. Saw him greased and flat-eyed as a fish. Maybe schoolteacher shot after
him, shot at his feet, to remind him of the trespass.
Maybe Halle got in the barn, hid there and got locked in with the rest of schoolteacher's stock. Maybe anything. He
disappeared and everybody was on his own.
Paul A goes back to moving timber after dinner. They are to meet at quarters for supper. He never shows up. Paul D
leaves for the creek on time, believing, hoping, Paul A has gone on ahead; certain schoolteacher has learned something.
Paul D gets to the creek and it is as dry as Sixo promised. He waits there with the Thirty-Mile Woman for Sixo and Paul A.
Only Sixo shows up, his wrists bleeding, his tongue licking his lips like a flame.
"You see Paul A?"
"No sign of them?"
"No sign. Nobody in quarters but the children."
"Her children sleep. She must be there still."
"I can't leave without Paul A."
"I can't help you."
"Should I go back and look for them?"
"I can't help you."
"What you think?"
"I think they go straight to the corn."
Sixo turns, then, to the woman and they clutch each other and whisper. She is lit now with some glowing, some shining
that comes from inside her. Before when she knelt on creek pebbles with Paul D, she was nothing, a shape in the dark
Sixo is about to crawl out to look for the knives he buried. He hears something. He hears nothing. Forget the knives.
Now. The three of them climb up the bank and schoolteacher, his pupils and four other whitemen move toward them.
With lamps. Sixo pushes the Thirty-Mile Woman and she runs further on in the creekbed.
Paul D and Sixo run the other way toward the woods. Both are surrounded and tied.
The air gets sweet then. Perfumed by the things honeybees love.
Tied like a mule, Paul D feels how dewy and inviting the grass is.
He is thinking about that and where Paul A might be when Sixo turns and grabs the mouth of the nearest pointing rifle.
He begins to sing. Two others shove Paul D and tie him to a tree. Schoolteacher is saying, "Alive. Alive. I want him alive."
Sixo swings and cracks the ribs of one, but with bound hands cannot get the weapon in position to use it in any other
way. All the whitemen have to do is wait. For his song, perhaps, to end? Five guns are trained on him while they listen.
Paul D cannot see them when they step away from lamplight. Finally one of them hits Sixo in the head with his rifle, and
when he comes to, a hickory fire is in front of him and he is tied at the waist to a tree. Schoolteacher has changed his
mind: "This one will never be suitable." The song must have convinced him.
The fire keeps failing and the whitemen are put out with themselves at not being prepared for this emergency. They
came to capture, not kill. What they can manage is only enough for cooking hominy.
Dry faggots are scarce and the grass is slick with dew.
By the light of the hominy fire Sixo straightens. He is through with his song. He laughs. A rippling sound like Sethe's sons
make when they tumble in hay or splash in rainwater. His feet are cooking; the cloth of his trousers smokes. He laughs.
Something is funny. Paul D guesses what it is when Sixo interrupts his laughter to call out, "Seven-O! Seven-O!"
Smoky, stubborn fire. They shoot him to shut him up. Have to.
Shackled, walking through the perfumed things honeybees love, Paul D hears the men talking and for the first time
learns his worth.
He has always known, or believed he did, his value--as a hand, a laborer who could make profit on a farm--but now he
discovers his worth, which is to say he learns his price. The dollar value of his weight, his strength, his heart, his brain, his
penis, and his future.
As soon as the whitemen get to where they have tied their horses and mount them, they are calmer, talking among
themselves about the difficulty they face. The problems. Voices remind schoolteacher about the spoiling these particular
slaves have had at Garner's hands.
There's laws against what he done: letting niggers hire out their own time to buy themselves. He even let em have
guns! And you think he mated them niggers to get him some more? Hell no! He planned for them to marry! if that don't
beat all! Schoolteacher sighs, and says doesn't he know it? He had come to put the place aright. Now it faced greater
ruin than what Garner left for it, because of the loss of two niggers, at the least, and maybe three because he is not
sure they will find the one called Halle. The sister-in-law is too weak to help out and doggone if now there ain't a fullscale stampede on his hands. He would have to trade this here one for $900 if he could get it, and set out to secure the
breeding one, her foal and the other one, if he found him. With the money from "this here one" he could get two young
ones, twelve or fifteen years old. And maybe with the breeding one, her three pickaninnies and whatever the foal might
be, he and his nephews would have seven niggers and Sweet Home would be worth the trouble it was causing him.
"Look to you like Lillian gonna make it?"
"Touch and go. Touch and go."
"You was married to her sister-in-law, wasn't you?"
"She frail too?"
"A bit. Fever took her."
"Well, you don't need to stay no widower in these parts."
"My cogitation right now is Sweet Home."
"Can't say as I blame you. That's some spread."
They put a three-spoke collar on him so he can't lie down and they chain his ankles together. The number he heard with
his ear is now in his head. Two. Two? Two niggers lost? Paul D thinks his heart is jumping. They are going to look for
Halle, not Paul A. They must have found Paul A and if a whiteman finds you it means you are surely lost.
Schoolteacher looks at him for a long time before he closes the door of the cabin. Carefully, he looks. Paul D does not
It is sprinkling now. A teasing August rain that raises expectations it cannot fill. He thinks he should have sung along.
Loud something loud and rolling to go with Sixo's tune, but the words put him off-- he didn't understand the words.
Although it shouldn't have mattered because he understood the sound: hatred so loose it was juba.
The warm sprinkle comes and goes, comes and goes. He thinks he hears sobbing that seems to come from Mrs. Garner's
window, but it could be anything, anyone, even a she-cat making her yearning known. Tired of holding his head up, he
lets his chin rest on the collar and speculates on how he can hobble over to the grate, boil a little water and throw in a
handful of meal. That's what he is doing when Sethe comes in, rain-wet and big-bellied, saying she is going to cut. She
has just come back from taking her children to the corn.
The whites were not around. She couldn't find Halle. Who was caught? Did Sixo get away? Paul A?
He tells her what he knows: Sixo is dead; the Thirty-Mile Woman ran, and he doesn't know what happened to Paul A or
Halle. "Where could he be?" she asks.
Paul D shrugs because he can't shake his head.
"You saw Sixo die? You sure?"
"Was he woke when it happened? Did he see it coming?"
"He was woke. Woke and laughing."
"You should have heard him, Sethe."
Sethe's dress steams before the little fire over which he is boiling water. It is hard to move about with shackled ankles
and the neck jewelry embarrasses him. In his shame he avoids her eyes, but when he doesn't he sees only black in them-
-no whites. She says she is going, and he thinks she will never make it to the gate, but he doesn't dissuade her. He knows
he will never see her again, and right then and there his heart stopped.
The pupils must have taken her to the barn for sport right afterward, and when she told Mrs. Garner, they took down
Who in hell or on this earth would have thought that she would cut anyway? They must have believed, what with her
belly and her back, that she wasn't going anywhere. He wasn't surprised to learn
that they had tracked her down in Cincinnati, because, when he thought about it now, her price was greater than his;
property that reproduced itself without cost.
Remembering his own price, down to the cent, that schoolteacher was able to get for him, he wondered what Sethe's
would have been.
What had Baby Suggs' been? How much did Halle owe, still, besides his labor? What did Mrs. Garner get for Paul F?
More than nine hundred dollars? How much more? Ten dollars? Twenty? Schoolteacher would know. He knew the
worth of everything. It accounted for the real sorrow in his voice when he pronounced Sixo unsuitable.
Who could be fooled into buying a singing nigger with a gun? Shouting Seven-O! Seven-O! because his Thirty-Mile
Woman got away with his blossoming seed. What a laugh. So rippling and full of glee it put out the fire. And it was Sixo's
laughter that was on his mind, not the bit in his mouth, when they hitched him to the buckboard.
Then he saw Halle, then the rooster, smiling as if to say, You ain't seen nothing yet. How could a rooster know about
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