Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Chapter 4

By Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 4

Robert Louis Stevenson Banks—a.k.a. "Chimley"

  • The first character we hear from who isn't mentioned by another character, Chimley sits with his pal Mat—not to be confused with Mathu—fishing in a small part of a pond near the quarters.
  • Chimley recalls a time when they used to have the whole pond to fish in, but then white people bought up all the land and all that's left is this little patch.
  • He and his buddy Mat have already managed to catch a good amount of fish when Chimley sees a young boy called "Fue" running up to talk to them.
  • Fue tells them that Candy wants them to grab a couple of 12-gauge shotguns and some number 5 shells and head on out to Mathu's.
  • Not a fan of Fue—who he not-very-nicely calls a "sissy"—Chimley demands to know what's going on.
  • Fue says it's got something to do with Mathu and the dead white guy in his yard. He also lets Chimley and Mat know that, while they're free to hide under their beds the way they always do, he's getting out of town.
  • Fue runs off.
  • Mat asks him where he's going. Fue says nobody will ever know.
  • Chimley and Mat are silent for a while.
  • Chimley knows that they're both thinking about the same thing: how awful white people have made things for everybody in the past whenever any member of the local Black community does something they don't like.
  • There's one gigantic difference though: nobody's ever killed a white man before.
  • They do some more sitting and tugging at their fishing lines.
  • After a while—really quietly—Mat just says "He works in mysterious ways, don't He?" referring to God.
  • Chimley agrees.
  • After some more silence, Mat asks Chimley—saying he doesn't have to answer the question if he doesn't want to—if he's scared.
  • Chimley admits that he is.
  • They both say they're too old to go crawling under beds anymore.
  • Mat asks if Chimley thinks Mathu killed Beau.
  • Chimley shrugs like he's not sure, but says that if it was Mathu, they should both be there.
  • Then Chimley remembers a moment when Mathu and Fix had a little trouble.
  • The way he tells it, it's almost like a flashback:
  • A group of folks—white and Black—were hanging out in front of a general store eating gingerbread and drinking soda.
  • Fix tells Mathu to take his empty Coke bottle inside and get him another one.
  • Mathu refuses, telling him he's nobody's servant.
  • Fix says he'd better do it, and threatens him.
  • Mathu tells Guidry—the sheriff at the time, that—if Fix tries anything, he plans on defending himself.
  • For his part, Guidry acts like he's not even listening.
  • Fix and Mathu start to fight. (Fix throws the first punch.)
  • The fight is pretty nasty and goes on for a while.
  • Mathu wins.
  • The white people there start talking about getting a lynch mob together, but Guidry tells them that's not going to happen.
  • He walks up to Mathu and socks him. Mathu falls down.
  • Then Guidry walks over to Fix, who's managed to get up, and socks him too.
  • Fix is on the ground now along with Mathu.
  • That ended it, but Chimley tells us that Mathu is the only one who ever stood up to Fix—maybe even stood up at all.
  • There's more silence. Chimley glances over at Mat.
  • Once again, they agree they're too old to go hiding under beds.
  • Chimley thinks it's kind of funny they decide to stand up to Fix this late in their lives. But both he and Mat have agreed to do just that.
  • They stop fishing, and Chimley says he's not sure why Candy wants them to fire off some shells first.
  • Mat says he's not sure why either. He asks Chimley if that gun of his is working.
  • After he tells Mat that he thinks so, Mat asks if Chimley has any number 5 shells.
  • Chimley says he isn't sure, but he thinks he might.
  • Mat wants him to save a few for him. He also says he might need to borrow a gun.
  • Chimley asks Mat how he plans on getting over there, and Mat says he'll catch a ride with Chatoo.
  • After they part ways, Chimley heads home and his wife complains about not wanting to clean fish so early in the day.
  • Ignoring her, Chimley gets his gun, finds an old dusty number 5 shotgun shell, and loads it.
  • He aims his gun out of the window, turns his face away, and fires the round off.
  • His wife goes nuts and asks him if he's gone nuts himself.
  • Chimley just tells her he's got some stuff to do, and then says that if the fish aren't cleaned and dinner's not ready when he gets home, he's going to do some more shooting. (Not really funny, if you ask us.)
  • His wife just rolls her eyes. Chimley's relieved that she's stopped asking questions.

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