Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Chapter 3

By Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 3

Myrtle Bouchard—a.k.a. "Miss Merle"

  • We're hanging out with Miss Merle for this chapter, and things are going to get tense—even though the chapter opens with Miss Merle going on about how she gave one of her servants, Lucy, a half-day off because she baked a really good apple pie.
  • Miss Merle had wanted to give the pie to the Major, also known as Jack, but when Janey delivers Candy's message to her, Miss Merle forgets about it and goes to meet Candy in the quarters.
  • When she gets there, she sees Candy, Beau's dead body lying in the grass near Mathu's place, and Mathu, Rufe and Johnny Paul—a bunch of old African American dudes—standing around, holding shotguns.
  • Miss Merle unloads some stuff on us about how she doesn't think Candy knows how to dress or make herself up like a proper-looking lady and how she (with some help from Mathu) had tried to raise Candy to be a decent human being.
  • Merle also hints that she and the Major have a little thing going on.
  • She asks Candy what's going on.
  • Candy says she wanted both Merle and Lou around before Mapes—the local sheriff—showed up and started asking questions.
  • When Merle keeps asking questions, Candy tells Merle that she shot Beau (again), but then also says that both Mathu and Rufe are claiming they shot Beau.
  • Merle isn't buying it, and says there's no way that Mapes is going to buy it either.
  • Candy says she doesn't care what Mapes thinks, because her lawyer could handle him in court.
  • Merle asks what Candy plans to do about Fix.
  • Ignoring the question, Candy tells Merle—yet again—that she shot Beau.
  • Being the casual racist that she is, Merle automatically assumes that Mathu did it and that Candy is covering for him.
  • Merle gives Mathu a sideways look that she hopes that Candy sees.
  • Candy starts talking, and says that she's not going to let anybody harm "her people."
  • Merle keeps pushing for the truth—but Candy is holding fast to her story.
  • Candy tells Merle that she can help her or leave.
  • Miss Merle knows she's already in it too deep. She asks Candy what she wants.
  • Candy says she wants to get more men down there, all with shotguns and empty number 5 shell casings.
  • Miss Merle is having a hard time being okay with this, so Candy asks her what she sees.
  • Merle says all she sees is a bunch of old dudes with shotguns (which, you know, is basically right).
  • Candy says—again—that she needs more people down there because Mapes will beat up two of the three guys already there to get a confession and then take one of them away.
  • This doesn't help Miss Merle feel any better.
  • Candy says that these people are not afraid to die, and she makes a point of suggesting that Mathu is a dude with some serious street cred among the folks in the quarters.
  • She rattles off what she wants. She says she wants to get a head start on Mapes, wants Merle and Lou there along with as many men with shotguns and empty shells as possible, and she wants Merle to go back and talk to Janey and find out how many people hate old Fix.
  • Merle is still really reluctant, but—after Candy does more insisting that nobody is going to hurt "her people"—she does what Candy asks.
  • Back at the Marshall plantation, Merle meets Janey and tries to wake Jack up after telling Janey to grab the apple pie out of the car.
  • This guy is way too hammered to be bothered. He just goes right on snoring.
  • Merle decides to find Miss Bea, who is more concerned about having her first alcoholic beverage of the day—called a "pea picker"—than she is about anything that Merle is trying to tell her.
  • Merle tries to get Bea to understand what's going on. She explains that Beau's been killed and that Candy is saying she killed him.
  • Bea—who still really wants her drink—just says that Candy is a spunky kid and that it's about time somebody shot one of those pesky Cajuns. Then she tells Janey to get the pea-pickers from inside the house.
  • Merle tells Janey not to go, and Bea gets ticked off because somebody else is ordering her maid around. She tells Miss Merle that she doesn't care for it.
  • Janey goes and gets the drinks, and Miss Merle tries telling Bea what's just gone down again.
  • Bea—sucking on her cocktail like a hungry toddler who's just gotten a bottle—can't be bothered.
  • Merle turns back to Janey and tells her she needs her help.
  • Janey—who looks (at least the way Merle sees it) like she's about to cry—agrees to help.
  • Getting right to the point, Merle asks Janey if she knows the names of people who don't like Fix.
  • Janey appears confused and afraid. She knows it can be dangerous for African Americans to admit to not liking rich and powerful white folks.
  • She hesitates and Merle gets rough with her, telling her what she wants and slapping her a few times when she still doesn't cooperate.
  • Janey, in all likelihood scared out of her mind, mentions Clatoo—a guy who's sister was almost raped by one of Fix's sons.
  • We find out that Clatoo's sister defended herself with a cane knife. The guy ended up living but was messed up for the rest of his life. Clatoo's sister died in prison.
  • Merle says she's going to try getting hold of Clatoo, and that Janey needs to come up with some more names.
  • Miss Bea says she wants another drink. She promises to help Janey with names if she gets her another pea picker.
  • Janey goes in to make another drink and Merle goes off to try and get in touch with Clatoo.

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