Study Guide

Chimley in A Gathering of Old Men

By Ernest J. Gaines

Chimley

The fourth voice that takes over the telling of the story that is A Gathering of Old Men, we first meet Chimley when he's fishing in the St. Charles River with his good buddy Mat and discovers that Beau Boutan is dead. Chimley, of course, is the nickname of one Robert Louis Stevenson Banks, named after the famous author of adventure tales like Treasure Island and harrowing horror yarns like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It's Chimley's conversation with Mat—after he finds out that a bunch of people are gathering out at Mathu's—that's really important. Fue, the young kid who tells them about it, predicts that they'll both be hiding under their beds and shaking once Fix and his gang come around. Let's take a gander: 

"You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, Chimley" […]

"Yeah, Mat?" I said.

"Scared?" he asked.

"Yes," I said […]

"I'm seventy-one, Chimley," he said […] "Seventy-one and a half. I ain't got too much strength left to go crawling under that bed like Fue said."

"I'm seventy-two," I said. But I didn't look at him when I said it […]

"Think he did it?" Mat asked.

I hunched my shoulders. "I don't know Mat."

"If he did, you know we ought to be there, Chimley" (4.16-27) 

To get at what Chimley and Mat are really saying here, you have to pay as much attention to what's being said as you do to what's not being said. When Mat asks Chimley if he's afraid, it's because he's afraid. When Chimley—after Mat tells him that he's too old to go hiding under his bed—says he's actually older than Mat, that's Chimley's way of agreeing with him that the time for hiding under beds is over. And what that actually means is that they're fed up with hiding, and that they're ready to stand up and fight—if only to back up Mathu, who everybody respects. Not only does Gaines use Chimley to give us a look into how these men communicate with one another, in a kind of code, but this is our first clue that the men who show up at Mathu's aren't just doing it because Candy told them to. They've got their own reasons.