Praise

Of the gifted novelists writing about the divided Union of South Africa, three have made a special appeal to ATLANTICreaders: Man Paton. Dan Jacobson, and Nadine Gordimer. Miss Gordimer is a native Johannesburger whose mastery of the short story is respected throughout the English-speaking world. The following story will appear in her new collection, NOT FOR PUBLICATION,soon to be published by Viking.

A STORY BY NADINE GORDIMER

PARISE BASETSE spent the first eleven years of his life, as soon as he could be trusted not to get under a car, leading his uncle about the streets. His uncle was not really blind, but nearly, and he was certainly mad. He walked with his right hand on Praise’s left shoulder; they kept moving part of the day, but they also had a pitch, on the cold side of the street, near the main post office, between the legless man who sold bootlaces and copper bracelets and the one with the doll’s hand growing out of one elbow, whose pitch was outside the YMCA. That was where Adelaide Graham-Grigg found the boy, and later he explained to her, “If you sit in the sun, nobody gives you anything.”

Miss Graham-Grigg was not looking for him. She was in Johannesburg on one of her visits from a British protectorate, seeing friends, pulling strings, and pursuing, on the side, her private study of following up the fate of those people of the tribe who had crossed the border and lost themselves, sometimes over several generations, in the city. As she felt down through the papers and letters in her bag to find a sixpence for the old man’s hat, she heard him mumble something to the boy in the tribe’s tongue — which was not in itself anything very significant in this city where many African languages could be heard. But these sounds formed in her ear as words: it was the language that she had learned to understand a little. She asked, in English, using only the traditional form of address in the tribe’s tongue, whether the old man was a tribesman. But he was mumbling the blessings which the clink of a coin started up like a kick to a worn and useless mechanism. The boy spoke to him, nudged him. Then the old man protested, no, no, he had come a long time from that tribe. A long, long time. He was Johannesburg. She saw that he confused the question with some routine interrogation at the pass offices, where a man from another territory was always in danger of being endorsed out to some forgotten “home.” Miss Graham-Grigg spoke to the boy, asking him if he came from the protectorate. He shook his head terrifiedly; once before he had been ordered off the streets by a welfare organization. “But your father? Your mother?” Miss Graham-Grigg said, smiling. She discovered that the old man had come from the protectorate, from the very village she had made her own, and that his children had passed on to their children enough of the language for them all to continue to speak it among themselves, down to the second generation born in the alien city.

Now the pair were no longer beggars to be ousted from her conscience by a coin: they were members of the tribe. She found out what township they went to ground in after the day’s begging, interviewed the family, established for them the old man’s right to a pension in his adopted country, and above all, did something for the boy. She never succeeded in finding out exactly who he was — she gathered he must have been an illegitimate child of one of the girls in the family. Anyway, he was a descendant of the tribe, a displaced tribesman, and he could not be left to go on begging in the streets. That was as far as her thoughts for him went, in the beginning. Nobody wanted him particularly, and she met with no opposition from the family when she proposed to take him back to the protectorate and put him to school. He went with her just as he had gone through the streets of Johannesburg each day under the weight of the old man’s hand.

The boy had never been to school before. He could not write, but Miss Graham-Grigg was astonished to discover that he could read quite fluently. Sitting beside her in her little car in the khaki shorts and shirt she had bought him, stripped of the protection of his smelly rags and scrubbed bare to her questions, he told her that he had learned from the newspaper vendor whose pitch was on the corner, from the posters that changed several times a day, and then from the front pages of the newspapers and magazines spread there. Good God, what had he not learned on the street! Without differentiation, he related the commonplaces of his life; he had also been shown by the legless copper-bracelet man how to make dagga cigarettes and smoke them for a nice feeling.

She asked him what he thought he would have done when he got older, if he had had to keep on walking with his uncle, and he said that he had wanted to belong to one of the gangs of boys who were very good at making money. They got money from white people’s pockets and handbags without their even knowing it, and if the police came, they began to play their penny whistles and sing. She said with a smile, “Well, you can forget all about the street now. You don’t have to think about it ever again.” And he said, “Yes, med-dam,” and she knew she had no idea what he was thinking — how could she? All she could offer was generalized encouragement, saying, “And soon you will know how to write.”

She had noticed that he was hatefully ashamed of not being able to write. When he had had to admit it, the face that he turned, open and victimized, to her every time she spoke had the squinting grimace of profound humiliation. Humiliation terrified Adelaide Graham-Grigg as the spectacle of savage anger terrifies others. That was one of the things she held against the missionaries: how they stressed Christ’s submission to humiliation, and so had conditioned the people of Africa to humiliation by the white man.

Praise went to the secular school that Miss Graham-Grigg’s committee of friends of the tribe in London had helped pay to set up in the village in opposition to the mission school. The sole qualified teacher was a young man who had received his training in South Africa and had now been brought back to serve his people; but it was a beginning. As Adelaide Graham-Grigg often said to the chief, shining-eyed as any proud daughter, “By the time independence comes we’ll be free not only of the British government, but of the church as well.” And he always giggled a little embarrassedly, because her own father was both a former British M.P. and the son of a bishop.

It was true that everything was a beginning; that was the beauty of it — of the smooth mud houses, red earth, flies, and heat that visitors from England wondered she could bear to live with for months on end, while their palaces and cathedrals and streets, choked on a thousand years of used-up endeavor, were an ending. Even Praise was a beginning; one day the tribe would be economically strong enough to gather its exiles home, and it would no longer be necessary for its sons to sell their labor over that border.

But it soon became clear that Praise was also exceptional. The business of learning to read from newspaper headlines was not merely a piece of gutter-wit; it proved to have been the irrepressible urge of real intelligence. In six weeks the boy could write, and from the very start he could spell perfectly, while boys of sixteen and eighteen never succeeded in mastering English orthography. In eighteen months he had completed the Standard Five syllabus, only a year behind the average age of a city white child with all the background advantage of a literate home.

There was as yet no other child in the tribe’s school who was ready for Standard Six. It was difficult to see what could be done now but to send Praise back over the border to school. So Miss Graham-Grigg decided it would have to be Father Audry. There was nothing else for it. The only alternative was the mission school, those damned Jesuits who’d been sitting in the territory since the days when the white imperialists were on the grab, taking the tribes under their “protection”; and the children the boy would be in class with there wouldn’t provide any sort of stimulation, either. So it would be Father Audry and South Africa. He was a priest, too, an Anglican one, but his school was a place where at least, along with the pious pap, a black child could get an education as good as a white child’s.

WHEN Praise came out into the veld with the other boys, his eyes screwed up, against the size: the land ran away all around, and there was no other side to be seen; only the sudden appearance of the sky, which was even bigger. The wind made him snuff like a dog. He stood helpless as the country men he had seen caught by changing traffic lights in the middle of a street. The bits of space between buildings came together ballooned uninterruptedly over him: he was lost; but there were clouds as big as the buildings had been, and even though space was vaster than any city, it was peopled by birds. If you ran for ten minutes into the veld the village was gone; but down low on the ground thousands of ants knew their way between their hard mounds that stood up endlessly as the land.

He went to herd cattle with the other boys early in the mornings and after school. He taught them some gambling games they had never heard of. He told them about the city they had never seen. The money in the old man’s hat seemed a lot to them, who had never got more than a few pennies when the mail train stopped for water at the halt five miles away; so the sum grew in his own estimation, too, and he exaggerated it a bit. In any case, he was forgetting about the city; in a way, not Miss Graham-Grigg’s way, but in the manner of a child, who, like a wasp building with his own spittle, makes his private context within the circumstance of his surroundings, so that the space around him was reduced to the village, the pan where the cattle were taken to drink, the halt where the train went by; whatever particular patch of sand or rough grass astir with ants the boys rolled on, heads together, among the white egrets and the cattle.

He did not live where Miss Graham-Grigg did, in one of the chief’s houses, but with the family of one of the other boys; but he was at her house often. She asked him to copy letters for her. She cut things out of the newspapers she got and gave them to him to read; they were about aeroplanes, and dams being built, and the way the people lived in other countries. “Now you’ll be able to tell the boys all about the Volta Dam, that is also going to be in Africa — far from here ■—but still, in Africa,” she said, with that sudden smile that reddened her face. She had a gramophone, and she played records for him. She gave him tea with plenty of sugar, and she asked him to help her to learn the language of the tribe, to talk to her in it. He was not allowed to call her madam, as he did the white women who had put money in the hat, but had to learn to say Miss GrahamGrigg.

In the light of what he had seen white people, in their cars, their wealth, their distance, to be, he understood nothing that she did. She looked like them, with her blue eyes, blond hair, and skin that was not one color but many — brown where the sun burned it, red when she blushed — but she lived in one of the chief’s houses, drove him in his car, and sometimes slept out in the fields with the women when they were harvesting kafir corn far from the village. He did not know why she had brought him there, or why she should be kind to him. But he could not ask her, any more than he would have asked her why she went out and slept in the fields when she had a gramophone and a lovely gas lamp in her room. If, when they were talking together, the talk came anywhere near the pitch outside the post office, she became slowly very red, and they went past it, either by falling silent or (on her part) laughing and talking rather fast.

That was why he was amazed the day she told him that he was going back to Johannesburg. As soon as she had said it she blushed darkly for it, her eyes pleading confusion: so it was really from her that the vision of the pitch outside the post office came again. But she was already speaking: “. . . to school. To a really good boarding school. Father Audry’s school, about nine miles from town. You must get your chance at a good school, Praise. We really can’t teach you properly any longer. Maybe you’ll be the teacher here yourself one day. There’ll be a high school, and you’ll be the headmaster.”

She succeeded in making him smile; but she looked sad, uncertain. He went on smiling because he couldn’t tell her about the initiation school that he was about to begin with the other boys of his age-group. Perhaps someone would tell her. The other women. Even the chief. But you couldn’t fool her with smiling.

“You’ll be sorry to leave Tebedi and Joseph and the rest.”

He stood there, smiling.

“Praise, I don’t think you understand about yourself, about your brain.” She gave a little sobbing giggle, prodded at her own head. “You’ve got an awfully good one. More in there than other boys, you know. It’s something special; it would be such a waste. Lots of people would like to be clever like you, but it’s not easy, when you are the clever one — ”

He went on smiling. He did not want her face looking into his anymore, and so he fixed his eyes on her feet, white feet in sandals, with the veins standing out over the ankles like the feet of Christ dangling above his head in the church.

ADELAIDE GRAHAM-GRIGG had met Father Audry before, of course. All those white people who do not accept the color bar in southern Africa seem to know each other, however different the bases of their rejection. Anyway, everyone knew him, from the newspapers if nowhere else: he had been warned, in a public speech by the Prime Minister, that the interference of a churchman in political matters would not be tolerated. He continued to speak his mind. He had close friends among African and Indian leaders, and it was said that he even got on well with certain ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church; that, in fact, he was behind some of the dissidents who now and then questioned Divine Sanction for the color bar — such was the presence of his restless, black-cassocked figure, stammering eloquence, and jagged handsome face.

He had aged since she saw him last; he was less handsome. But he had still what he would have as long as he lived: the unconscious bearing of a natural prince among men that makes a celebrated actor, a political leader, a successful lover; an object of attraction and envy who, whatever his generosity of spirit, is careless of one cruelty for which other people will never forgive him — the distinction, the luck with which he was born.

He was tired and closed his eyes in a grimace, straining at concentration when he talked to her, yet in spite of this, she felt the dimness of the candle of her being within his radius. Everything was right with him; nothing was quite right with her. She was only thirty-six, but she had never looked any younger. Her eyes were the bright shy eyes of a young woman, but her feet and hands with their ridged nails had the look of tension and suffering of extremities that would never caress: she saw it, she saw it, she knew in his presence that they were deprived forever.

Her humiliation gave her force. She said, “I must tell you we want him back in the tribe — I mean, there are terribly few with enough education even for administration. Within the next few years we’ll desperately need more and more educated men. We shouldn’t want him to be allowed to think of becoming a priest.”

Father Audry smiled at what he knew he was expected to come out with: that if the boy chose the way of the Lord, and so forth.

He said, “What you want is someone who will turn out to be an able politician without challenging the tribal system.”

They both laughed, but again he had unconsciously taken the advantage of admitting their deeply divergent views; he believed the chiefs must go, while she, of course, saw no reason why Africans shouldn’t develop their own tribal democracy instead of taking over the Western pattern.

“Well, he’s a little young for us to be worrying about that now, don’t you think?” He smiled. “What about the Lemeribe Mission? What’s the teaching like these days? I used to know Father Chalmon when he was there — ”

“I wouldn’t send him to those people,” she said spiritedly, implying that he knew her views on missionaries and their role in Africa. In this atmosphere of candor, they discussed Praise’s background. Father Audry suggested the boy should be encouraged to resume relations with his family once he was back within reach of Johannesburg.

“They’re pretty awful.”

“It would be best for him to acknowledge what he was if he is to accept what he is to become.” He got up with a swish of his black skirts and strode, stooping in the opened door, to call, “Simon, bring the boy.” Miss Graham-Grigg was smiling excitedly toward the doorway, all the will to love pacing behind the bars of her glance.

Praise entered in the navy-blue shorts and white shirt of his new school uniform. The woman’s kindness, the man’s attention got him in the eyes like the sun striking off the pan where the cattle had been taken to drink. Father Audry came from England, Miss Graham-Grigg had told him, like herself. That was what they were, these two white people who were not like any white people he had seen to be. What they were was being English. From far off; six thousand miles from here, as he knew from his geography book.

PRAISE did very well at the new school. He sang in the choir in the big church on Sundays; his body, that was to have been made a man’s out in the bush, was hidden under the white robes. The boys smoked in the lavatories, and once there was a girl who came and lay down for them in a stormwater ditch behind the workshops. He knew all about these things from before, on the streets and in the location where he had slept in one room with a whole family. But he did not tell the boys about the initiation. The women had not said anything to Miss Graham-Grigg. The chief hadn’t, either. Soon when Praise thought about it he realized that by now it must be over. Those boys must have come back from the bush. Miss GrahamGrigg had said that after a year, when Christmas came, she would fetch him for the summer holidays. She did come and see him, but he couldn’t go back with her at Christmas because Father Audry had him in the Nativity play and was giving him personal coaching in Latin and Algebra. Father Audry didn’t actually teach in the school at all — it was “his” school simply because he had begun it, and it was run by the order of which he was Father Provincial — but the reports of the boy’s progress were so astonishing that, as he said to Miss GrahamGrigg, one felt one must give him all the mental stimulation one could.

“I begin to believe we may be able to sit him for his matric when he is just sixteen.” Father Audry made the pronouncement with the air of doing so at the risk of sounding ridiculous. Miss Graham-Grigg always had her hair done when she got to Johannesburg; she was looking pretty and gay. “D’you think he could do a Cambridge entrance? My committee in London would set up a scholarship. I’m sure — investment in a future prime minister for the chief!”

When Praise was sent for, she said she hardly knew him; he hadn’t grown much, but he looked so grown up, with his long trousers and glasses. “You really needn’t wear them when you’re not working,” said Father Audry. They both stood back smiling, letting the phenomenon embody the boy.

Praise saw that she had never been reminded by anyone about the initiation. She began to give him news of his friends, Tebedi and Joseph and the others, but when he heard their names they seemed to belong to people he couldn’t visualize.

Father Audry talked to him sometimes about what Father called his “family,” and when first he came to the school, he had been told to write to them. It was a well-written, well-spelled letter in English, exactly the letter he presented as a school exercise when one was required in class. They didn’t answer. Then Father Audry must have made private efforts to get in touch with them, because the old woman, a couple of children who had been babies when he left, and one of his grownup “sisters” came to the school on a visiting day. They had to be pointed out to him among the other boys’ visitors; he would not have known them, nor they him. He said, “Where’s my uncle?”, because he would have known him at once; he had never grown out of the slight stoop of the left shoulder where the weight of the old man’s hand had impressed the young bone. But the old man was dead. Father Audry came up and put a long arm around the bent shoulder and another long arm around one of the small children and said from one to the other: “Are you going to work hard and learn a lot, like your brother?” and the small black child stared up into the nostrils filled with strong hair, the tufted eyebrows, the red mouth surrounded by the pale jowl dark-pored with beard beneath the skin, and then down, torn by fascination, to the string of beads that hung from the leather belt.

They did not come again, but Praise did not much miss visitors because he spent more and more time with Father Audry. When he was not actually being coached, he was set to work to prepare his lessons or do his reading in the Father’s study, where he could concentrate as one could not hope to do up at the school. Father Audry taught him chess as a form of mental gymnastics, and was jubilant the first time Praise beat him. Praise went up to the house for a game nearly every evening after supper. He tried to teach the other boys, but after the first ten minutes of explanation of moves, someone would bring out the cards or dice, and they would all play one of the old games that were played in the streets and yards and locations. Johannesburg was only nine miles away; you could see the lights.

Father Audry rediscovered what Miss GrahamGrigg had found, that Praise listened attentively to music, serious music. One day Father Audry handed the boy the flute that had lain for years in its velvet-lined box that bore still the little silver nameplate: Rowland Audry. He watched while Praise gave the preliminary swaying wriggle and assumed the bent-kneed stance of all the urchin performers Father Audry had seen, and then tried to blow down it in the shy, fierce attack of penny-whistle music. Father Audry took it out of his hands. “It’s what you’ve just heard there.” Bach’s unaccompanied flute sonata lay on the record player. Praise smiled and frowned, giving his glasses a lift with his nose, a habit that he was developing. “But you’ll soon learn to play it the right way round,” said Father Audry, and with the lack of self-consciousness that comes from the habit of privilege, put the flute to his mouth and played what he remembered after ten years.

He taught Praise not only how to play the flute but also the elements of musical composition so that he should not simply play by ear, or simply listen with pleasure, but also understand what it was that he heard. The flute playing was much more of a success with the boys than the chess had been, and on Saturday nights, when they sometimes made up concerts, he was allowed to take the flute to the hostel and play it for them.

The one thing that dissatisfied Father Audry was that the boy had not filled out and grown as much as one would have expected. He made it a rule that Praise must spend more time on physical exercise; the school couldn’t afford a proper gymnasium, but there was some equipment outdoors. The trouble was that the boy had so little time; even with his exceptional ability, it was not going to be easy for a boy with his lack of background to matriculate at sixteen. Brother George, his form master, was certain he could be made to bring it off; there was a specially strong reason why everyone wanted him to do it, since Father Audry had established that he would be eligible for an open scholarship that no black boy had ever won before. What a triumph that would be, for the boy, for the school, for all the African boys who were considered fit only for the lower standard of “Bantu education” ! Perhaps some day this beggar-child from the streets of Johannesburg might even become the first black South African to be a Rhodes Scholar. This was what Father Audry jokingly referred to as Brother George’s “sin of pride.” But who knew? It was not inconceivable. So far as the boy’s physique was concerned, what Brother George said was probably true, “You can’t feed up for those years in the streets.”

FROM the beginning of the first term of the year he was fifteen Praise had to be coached, pressed on, and had to work as even he had never worked before. His teachers gave him tremendous support; he seemed borne along on it by either arm, so that he never looked up from his books. To encourage him, Father Audry arranged for him to compete in certain interschool scholastic contests that were really intended for the white Anglican schools: a spelling bee, a debate, a quiz contest. He sat on the platform in the polished halls of huge white schools and gave his correct answers in the African-accented English that the boys who surrounded him had heard only as the accent of servants and deliverymen.

Brother George often asked him if he was tired. But he was not tired. He only wanted to be left with his books. The boys in the hostel seemed to know this; they never asked him to play cards anymore, and even when they shared smokes together in the lavatory, they passed him his drag in silence. He specially did not want Father Audry to come in with a glass of hot milk. He would rest his cheek against the pages of the books, now and then, alone in the study; that was all. The damp-stone smell of the books was all he needed. Where he had once had to force himself to return again and again to the pages of things he did not grasp, gazing in blankness at the print until meaning assembled itself, he now had to force himself when it was necessary to leave the swarming facts, outside which he no longer seemed to understand anything. Sometimes he could not work for minutes at a time because he was thinking that Father Audry would come in with the milk. When he did come, it was never actually so bad. But Praise couldn’t look at his face. Once or twice when he had gone out again, Praise shed a few tears. He found himself praying, smiling with the tears and trembling, rubbing at the scalding water that ran down inside his nose and blotched on the books.

One Saturday afternoon when Father Audry had been entertaining guests at lunch, he came into the study and suggested that the boy should get some fresh air — go out and join the football game for an hour or so. But Praise was struggling with geometry problems from the previous year’s matriculation paper that, to Brother George’s dismay, he had suddenly got all wrong that morning.

Father Audry could imagine what Brother George was thinking: was this an example of the phenomenon he had met with so often with African boys of a lesser caliber — the inability, through lack of an assumed cultural background, to perform a piece of work well known to them once it was presented in a slightly different manner outside one of their own textbooks? Nonsense, of course, in this case; everyone was overanxious about the boy. Right from the start he’d shown that there was nothing mechanistic about his thought processes; he had a brain, not just a set of conditioned reflexes.

“Off you go. You’ll manage better when you’ve taken a few knocks on the field.”

But desperation had settled on the boy’s face like obstinacy. “I must, I must,” he said, putting his palms down over the books.

“Good. Then let’s see if we can tackle it together.”

The black skirt swishing past the shiny shoes brought a smell of cigars. Praise kept his eyes on the black beads; the leather belt they hung from creaked as the big figure sat down. Father Audry took the chair on the opposite side of the table and switched the exercise book around toward himself. He scrubbed at the thick eyebrows till they stood out tangled, drew the hand down over his great nose, and then screwed his eyes closed a moment, mouth strangely open and lips drawn back in a familiar grimace. There was a jump, like a single painful hiccup, in Praise’s body. The Father was explaining the problem gently, in his offhand English voice.

He said, “Praise? D’you follow?” The boy seemed sluggish, almost deaf, as if the voice reached him as the light of a star reaches the earth, from something already dead.

Father Audry put out his fine hand, in question or compassion. But the boy leapt up dodging a blow. “Sir — no. Sir — no.”

It was clearly hysteria; he had never addressed Father Audry as anything but “Father.” It was some frightening retrogression, a reversion to the subconscious, a place of symbols and collective memory. He spoke for others, out of another time. Father Audry stood up but saw in alarm that by the boy’s retreat he was made his pursuer, and he let him go, blundering in clumsy panic out of the room.

Brother George was sent to comfort the boy. In half an hour he was down on the football field, running and laughing. But Father Audry took some days to get over the incident. He kept thinking how when the boy had backed away he had almost gone after him. The ugliness of the instinct repelled him; who would have thought how, at the mercy of the instinct to prey, the fox, the wild dog long for the innocence of the gentle rabbit, and the lamb? No one had shown fear of him ever before in his life. He had never given a thought to the people who were not like himself; those from whom others turn away. He felt at last a repugnant and resentful pity for them, the dripping-jawed hunters. He even thought that he would like to go into retreat for a few days, but it was inconvenient — he had so many obligations.

Finally, the matter-of-factness of the boy, Praise, was the thing that restored normality. So far as the boy was concerned, one would have thought that nothing had happened. The next day he seemed to have forgotten all about it; a good thing. And so Father Audry’s own inner disruption, denied by the boy’s calm, sank away. He allowed the whole affair the one acknowledgment of writing to Miss Graham-Grigg — surely that was not making too much of it — to suggest that the boy was feeling the tension of his final great effort, and that perhaps a visit from her, and so forth; but she was still away in England.

Praise worked steadily on the last lap. Brother George and Father Audry watched him continuously. He was doing extremely well and seemed quite overcome with the weight of pride and pleasure when Father Audry presented him with a new black fountain pen: this was the pen with which he was to write the matriculation exam. On a Monday afternoon Father Audry, who had been in conference with the bishop all morning, looked in on his study, where every afternoon the boy would be seen sitting at the table that had been moved in for him. But there was no one there. The books were on the table. A chute of sunlight landed on the seat of the chair. Praise was not found again. The school was searched; and then the police were informed, the boys questioned; there were special prayers said in the mornings and evenings. He had not taken anything with him except the fountain pen.

When everything had been done, there was nothing but silence; nobody mentioned the boy’s name. But Father Audry was conducting investigations on his own. Every now and then he would get an idea that would bring a sudden hopeful relief. He wrote to Adelaide Graham-Grigg, “. . . what worries me — I believe the boy may have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I am hunting everywhere. . .”; was it possible that he might make his way to the protectorate? She was back and acting as confidential secretary to the chief now, but she wrote to say that if the boy turned up she would try to make time to deal with the situation. Father Audry even sought out, at last, the “family,” the people with whom Miss Graham-Grigg had discovered Praise living as a beggar. They had been moved to a new township, and it took some time to trace them.

He found No. 28b, Block E, in the appropriate ethnic group; an old woman came to the door. He was accustomed to going in and out of African homes, and he explained his visit in matter-of-fact terms at once, since he knew how suspicious of questioning the people would be. There were no interior doors in these houses, and a woman in the inner room who was dressing moved out of the visitor’s line of vision as he sat down. She heard all that passed between Father Audry and the old woman, and presently she came in with mild interest. Out of a silence the old woman was saying “My-my-my-my!”; she shook her head down into her bosom in a stylized expression of commiseration; they had not seen the boy, “And he spoke so nice, everything was so nice in the school.” But they knew nothing about the boy, nothing at all. The younger woman remarked, “Maybe he’s with those boys who sleep in the old empty cars there in town: you know? — there by the beer hall?”