Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Chapter 9

By Ernest J. Gaines

Chapter 9

Joseph Seaberry—a.k.a. "Rufe"

  • Mathu—who had been squatting on the porch of his home—stands up, holding his gun. Everybody moves in slightly closer around where Mapes is standing.
  • Worried about Mathu, Candy stands in between Mapes and the steps to Mathu's house.
  • Candy tells Mathu to stay where he is, but he says he's going to come to the sheriff.
  • She tells Mathu to wait, and warns Mapes that he had better not hit Mathu and mistreat him the way he's mistreated the others with whom he's talked.
  • Mapes doesn't promise he'll behave, but he doesn't say he won't behave either.
  • Clatoo shouts out that he thinks Mapes gets the point, and Candy agrees.
  • Candy helps Mathu walk down the steps that lead up to the porch of his house.
  • (Rufe lets us know that Mathu didn't need Candy's help, but that he took it just to make her happy.)
  • After he bows to Candy as a way of saying "thank you," Mathu steps right up to Mapes and looks him square in the eye.
  • Trying to keep things nice, Mapes asks Mathu how he's feeling.
  • Mathu says he's just fine and asks the sheriff the same question.
  • Mapes says he's really tired. He was hoping to get some fishing in that day.
  • As if he's making small-talk with just anybody, Math tells Mapes he hears the fishing has been good around those parts lately.
  • As if he expects us to be weirded-out by the conversation that Mapes and Mathu are having, Rufe explains to us that Maps has always respected Mathu, that they've even hunted and hung out together like friends.
  • Rufe also makes it clear that Mapes doesn't feel that way about any other person there.
  • After a space of silence, Mapes encourages Mathu to tell all the people who have gathered there to go home.
  • Mathu doesn't say no, but he tells Mapes that he can't make people do something they don't want to do.
  • Mapes asks again, and Candy cuts in and says that Mathu doesn't have to answer any questions until her lawyer, Clinton, shows up.
  • Calm and collected, Mathu tells Candy that he doesn't mind talking.
  • Still being polite, Mapes asks Mathu to get the people there to tell him who did it.
  • Just like everybody else, Mathu says he did it.
  • The difference, though, is that Mapes believes Mathu when he says it.
  • But that's not enough. Mapes says that Mathu needs to get one of the other guys to admit they showed up because they were told to show up.
  • Again, Mathu doesn't say no, but he says that whether or not anybody says anything is up to them.
  • Mapes tries to remind Mathu of the awful stuff that Fix might do if nobody says anything.
  • Still totally calm, Mathu says that a man has to do what he thinks is right, no matter what anybody tells him.
  • Still surprisingly polite, Mapes asks Mathu to get everybody else to go home.
  • Before he can say anything—and you can probably guess what he would have said—Clatoo pipes up again. He says that what Mapes is trying to do isn't going to work.
  • Surprise of all surprises, this chaps Mapes's hide, and he demands to know who said it.
  • Clatoo owns up to it without blinking an eye.
  • When Mapes mentions he can't believe that Clatoo is getting so mouthy, Clatoo says he's too old to have never gotten into trouble with the law before, and figured it was about time.
  • He gets threatened with jail.
  • Clatoo says jail time for killing a man sounds about right to him. He also tells Mapes that he's done just sitting around and taking whatever junk white folks give him with his head down.
  • Suddenly, Dirty Red pipes up again and tries to take credit for murdering Beau.
  • Mapes insults Dirty Red and his family by calling them a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing losers, but Red cuts him off and basically says all that's turning around today.
  • It might not seem like a huge deal, but Mapes is super-peeved that Red interrupted him.
  • Before he can go off, Johnny Paul does the same thing and shows Mapes that he's not afraid of him.
  • Before Mapes can say anything, Jacob Aguillard weighs in and says he killed Beau because of what happened to his little sister years ago.
  • Then Ding Lejeune, one of the twins, says he was the one who killed Beau because of what happened to his sister's little girl.
  • All Mapes says to this is "I see."
  • This really sets Johnny Paul off. He starts insisting that there's no way that Mapes can see. He can't see unless he's spent decades living in that community the way he and his friends have.
  • As he keeps repeating over and over again that Mapes can't see, the sheriff gets impatient and tells him to hurry up.
  • Johnny Paul is absolutely not having it. He says all Maps can do is smack him around or take him to prison. He's not afraid of either option, so he's going to take his time.
  • He paints a beautiful and heartbreaking picture of what was once a vibrant community:
  • Johnny Paul talks about how you could at one time hear the sounds of church bells ringing and the voices of people singing and praising on Sunday.
  • He tells us about how the older generation used to sit on the porches on cool evenings and talk as if they were making another kind of music.
  • We learn about how beautiful Jack Touissant's garden was, how nobody could plough a field like Jack and Job when they were on their best horses, Diamond and Red Rider.
  • Then Johnny Paul asks the one million dollar question: where is everybody now?
  • The answer: dead and buried in that clearing we've already read about.
  • Johnny Paul says that he killed Beau because it was only a matter of time before the tractors that have destroyed so much of the land plough the cemetery under, erasing any memory of the beautiful history that the Black community there created.
  • Mapes is quiet. All he does is grunt, softly, like he's just taking all this in.
  • Now it's Tucker's turn to talk, and he tells a story that obviously hurts him deeply.
  • He talks about his brother Silas, the last old-school sharecropper in the area, and how he nearly lost his mind and everything else trying to prove that he could work faster than any tractor or machine when it came to ploughing a field (he actually beat one of the machines in an actual race).
  • Griffin makes some smart aleck comment about how he and Mapes shouldn't have to listen to this.
  • Tucker threatens him. Mapes tells Griffin to shut up.
  • Nothing could stop Silas, Tucker says, until a group of white men viciously beat him within an inch of his life—while Tucker was forced to stand there and watch.
  • Tucker has made himself incredibly upset, and he begins to cry.
  • Beulah takes him over to the porch and starts consoling him as if he were a small child.
  • With tears streaming down his face, Tucker asks Mapes where the law was when that happened to his brother.
  • Mapes keeps his mouth shut—which is probably a good thing.
  • Tucker's talk about the machines jogs Yank's memory, and he's the next to speak up.
  • He says that his sole source of pride was how well he could break in a horse. If anybody needed a horse "broken" (which means trained to be able to obey a rider), they came to him.
  • All that changed, Yank recalls, when the machines took over.
  • Mapes says that's what some call progress, adding that Yank couldn't break a horse now if he wanted to.
  • Yank says that might just be why he killed Beau.
  • The sheriff tells Griffin to make a note of that comment.
  • Yank gives Griffin his full name, and tells him to make sure he spells it the right way.
  • Little Griffin is getting more and more upset, so Mapes—after Jacob says it might be a good idea to get him out of there—tells Griffin to check on Russell.
  • When Griffin gets back after doing that, he tells him to go on back and have another deputy, named Hilly, patrol the stretch of road leading to Mathu's place.
  • Shortly after Griffin leaves, Gable decides to speak.
  • His health is failing and he's really frail, so people tell him to be careful, but he's going to tell his story.
  • Gable's son—whose name we don't know—was developmentally disabled but sent to the electric chair at sixteen because he supposedly raped a white woman, which could not have happened.
  • All Gable and his wife were told before it was supposed to happen was that they could come by the back entrance and pick up the body at eleven because they were killing him at ten—a pretty awful thing to say to two parents of an innocent kid about to get murdered.
  • Apparently, when they tried to kill him, the chair didn't work.
  • They had to stop and fix it. As they walked him back to his cell, he kept asking if he had made it to heaven and saying that he was sure glad that so many of the people he knew were there.
  • Then they brought him back and electrocuted him to death. Gable said he heard the white folks walked out of the viewing room like they were leaving a card game.
  • Because of what happened to his poor kid, Gable concludes, he killed Beau.
  • Mapes stays silent, but Griffin comes back and tells him that Hilly's all set up.
  • Jameson says he'd like to speak.
  • Clatoo lets him know that, if he wants to talk, he can get a gun.
  • When Jameson refuses, Clatoo tells him to shut on up then.
  • Mapes asks if Clatoo's the one Candy's chosen to be the ring leader.
  • Instead of responding to Mapes's sarcastic little question, Clatoo says it looks like Coot was about to say something. And it looks like Clatoo was right.
  • Coot's there in his old World War I uniform. It's wrinkled, ratty, and full of holes, but he wears it with pride.
  • We learn that Coot fought with an all-Black regiment during the Great War (the armed forces, like the rest of America, were segregated). He did one heck of a job—winning medals and all kinds of praise—and then he headed back to the states.
  • When he did, a white dude told him that if, he ever saw Coot in that uniform again, he'd kill him.
  • We also learn that another guy, the son of someone named Curt, got cut up with a knife for carrying a picture of a German girl in his wallet.
  • Coot also mentions a young African-American kid who died saving his whole platoon in Korea, but who they refused to bury at Arlington with the white soldiers.
  • He adds that nothing changed in Vietnam, either.
  • Coot says he used to put on his uniform and stare at himself in the mirror.
  • That day, he decide to get a gun, put his uniform on, and kill the first man who told him to take it off.
  • Finally, he says, he wound up near Mathu's place, saw Beau aiming to do some evil, and killed him just like he used to kill Germans in the war.
  • Jameson and Mapes get to talking.
  • He encourages Mapes to do something before everybody gets killed.
  • Beulah joins the long list of characters who have told Jameson to shut up.
  • When Jameson tries to approach her, she threatens to hit him harder than Mapes did.
  • Rooster, Beulah's husband, asks if he ought to shoot Jameson or just let his wife kick his butt.
  • Dirty Red says they'll just let Snookum beat him down if he opens his mouth again, and asks Snookum if he could manage that.
  • Noticing that his "Gram mon" doesn't think that's funny, he doesn't say anything in reply.
  • There's some silence. Mapes asked if everybody's finished.
  • Beulah says that, if Mapes wants to hear more, all he has to do is ask. None of the women have spoken yet, and they could tell him things that would terrify him.
  • Mapes says that he doesn't want to hear anymore tall tales.
  • He still doesn't really get it. All he says is that Fix didn't do any of the stuff they're talking about, and neither did Beau.
  • Ding mentions the river along which all the white people used to live, and that sparks a memory in Corrine's head. She's the next to speak.
  • The river Corrine's talking about is the St. Charles River, and she lets us know it was where folks used to fish, do laundry, and baptize one another—but all that's changed as more and more parts of it get sold up and fenced off.
  • Mapes jumps in again, saying that he can't do what he used to be able to do on that river himself, but that none of that is Fix's fault. (He's still missing the point.)
  • Beulah lets Mapes know what's what. She tells him that Fix used to live on that river and did some real evil while he was there, including deliberately drowning to young African America kids.
  • Mapes—making one of many mistakes—says there was no proof that Fix had anything to do with it, plus that happened nearly fifty years ago.
  • Beulah goes completely off, and tells him that anybody who is honest with themselves not only knows that Fix was guilty, but that nothing has changed since then.
  • Mapes threatens Beulah with a trip to jail. She makes it clear she doesn't care if she goes—she just needs time to put on a clean dress.
  • Mapes keeps it up with the jail threats and Beulah keeps on, that saying she doesn't care what happens. If Mathu goes, she goes.
  • Seeing that he can't rattle Beulah, he threatens Aunt Glo the same way.
  • She has about the same response as Beulah, and says she'll find somebody to take care of the kids she's watching.
  • Snookum takes this as his cue to talk. He says he'll go to jail too, adding that he wished he was older so he could have killed Beau and Mapes can beat him with a pipe if he wants to.
  • After all of this, Mapes turns back to Candy and starts in on her for putting all of this together again.
  • Candy says they're only doing it to protect her.
  • Showing himself for the real racist that he is, Mapes says it's only a matter of time before the folks gathered there turn on her too.
  • Candy isn't bothered by this.
  • Mapes tells Griffin to check on Russell again.
  • Beulah and some of the others gathered there remind Mapes that he needs to get Griffin to get his attitude in check.
  • Griffin gives Mapes the all-clear from Russell.
  • Mapes calls it the quiet before the storm, adding that Fix will be there soon—once he gets all of his family together.
  • Clatoo promises the sheriff that they will all be there, too.

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