Chapter Sixteen

When spring came and the snow had melted, Cain went out to the dry pile of dead trees he had cut down inside his new rock wall. He took a flaming branch from the fire in the hut with him. He threw this branch onto the fenced-in pile of wood. It flared up, and by the end of they day everything was reduced to ash. That spring he planted corn in the ash before replanting his first field. The ground in the first field had hardened and had to be loosened, and new rocks and weeds had to be removed before the seeds could be planted. It took several days.

Cain's head swarmed with new ideas as he prepared the fields. He carefully planned how he would make a better crop this year. He had thought of a few changes he could make in the way he planted his fields, but they were small changes. The ideas of the second field and the orchard were what excited him.

Eve had once told him, rather wistfully, that fruit trees had been everywhere in the Garden. When they had come to this place, they had found animals right beside their home. He had brought vegetables to their home as well. Now he was going to bring them fruit trees. When he finished planting his fields, he went through the forest, finding saplings of fruit-bearing trees and digging them up. He was careful not to sever many of their thick, deep roots, because he was afraid that nothing, not even a plant, could survive maimed. He dug them up and buried the roots again around the edges of the hut, under the blank stares of Adam and Abel and the delighted gaze of Eve.

One night as the family ate supper, Adam asked, "Cain, why have you planted two fields when one fed us all well enough?"

Cain, who had scarcely been able to restrain himself from telling the three of them all about his new idea, answered at once, with a smile. "It's to feed the animals, this winter, so they won't get thin and tough."

Eve gasped, eyes shining; Abel stared without expression; Adam looked grave as ever. "God has again blessed you with a good idea, Cain," he said; as usual, he didn't look especially happy about it. Cain didn't answer. He usually loved everyone and could forgive anything right after a great accomplishment, but now he suddenly felt that he could not bear to be with Adam a moment longer. Leaving his half-eaten meal, he rose and walked out of the hut, ignoring Adam's calling and the worried look he knew Eve would be turning toward him.

He strode past his young trees. He strode through his fields, looking down a the tiny, pale sprouts that had already appeared. He grasped the top of the fence and pulled himself over it, out into the forest. In the dark forest, full of animals that had only recently learned to be afraid of humans, he walked until he was too tired to be angry anymore.

***

At the end of the summer, both fields were flourishing. The crops were not yet ripe, but they would be soon, and they would be large and healthy. Cain was happy that morning when he told the others that he would be searching the forest for food that day.

"Haven't you planted enough vegetables here?" asked Abel, expressionless again.

"But the trees are still too young to bear fruit, and the harvest isn't ripe yet. I've got to find something for us to eat now." He frowned at Abel in sudden confusion. "Don't you know that I do this almost every day in spring and summer?" he asked.

"Of course. When you're not tending your garden," Abel answered, looking back down at his meal. Cain stared at him. He had never heard Abel talk like this before. And only Eve had ever called his plants a garden. Adam and Abel had always reserved that word for the idle paradise they had been banished from.

Eve went to fetch the skin bags they used to carry the fruit they picked. "I'll go with you, Cain," she said gently. "I'll help you gather."

Abel turned to her. "Don't you have anything to do here? No clothes or tools to make?"

"Only a little. Not enough work for a whole day. I'm going with Cain." Abel did not react. Eve and Cain left unmolested, heading out into the forest.

It was a beautiful day, with the sun warm and gentle, and the sky vividly blue, with almost no clouds. Birds were singing everywhere, even when Eve and Cain came near, completely unafraid. Cain was glad; he always loved to hear birds. It reminded him of other sunny days like this one, and of the songs Eve had whistled to him when he was small. She began whistling them now, imitating the birds' calls and adding variations of her own that thrilled him. All the burdens the world had to offer had been left behind, and in this peaceful setting it seemed they would never return. But remembering them oppressed his cheerful mood.

"Mother," he said suddenly, not even waiting for her to pause in her song, "why haven't you ever left him?"

She knew what he meant. "You and Abel came. I couldn't leave you two, and I couldn't run away with you. I would never have been able to care for you alone."

"But now we're men. We don't need to be cared for. Why are you still here?"

She paused for a moment, looking not at him but at something far in the distance. She was not seeing anything before her eyes; she was seeing something inside her own mind. She thought for a moment, staring away from him, before answering.

"I was afraid he would follow me."

They continued without speaking for a while, pausing to pluck the ripe fruit from the trees and bushes they passed. Cain was thinking of Eve forced to stay with Adam, imprisoned as much as she had been in that shining, weary Garden. As he thought about it, he felt as if she were imprisoned inside him and that she was fighting to get out. He felt his face grow warmer; he was even trembling a little before he finally stopped and turned to face her.

"Mother," he said in a low, urgent voice, "let's leave them." Her eyes widened. "Yes! Let's leave them, together. He can't force you to come back if I am there to protect you. And they can care for themselves. And we can certainly manage on our own."

"But the cave — your fields, and the orchard — your garden—"

"Let them worry about them! I can make others easily. Let's get away from them!"

He saw a shadow, a question on her face. Not an emotion, a thought. It occurred to him that he never saw this look of curiosity on Adam's or Abel's faces. Her voice seemed strangely guarded as she asked, "Why do you want to leave them so much?"

He wondered what answer she wanted. There was no hint on her face. But the reason came to his tongue instantly. "They think we owe them something." She raised her eyebrows, her face still arranged in an expression of inquiry. He hesitated, new thoughts that had been forming without words for years coming to the surface. "And we don't. Really, they owe us. But we couldn't explain that to them, not if we talked for years, because they don't want to change their minds, and no matter how clear it is, they still won't accept the truth, because they don't like it. They wouldn't even let it into their minds." He stopped, the frustration rising in him again. "And as long as we're with them, we let them have a claim on us! I don't know how to escape it, except to leave! I can barely stand being near them!"

Eve put a hand on his shoulder, her questioning face relaxing into warmth. "I understand," she whispered. "I know exactly what you're trying to explain. And I agree." He shot her a hopeful glance. The happy hope brimmed up in him and seemed about to make him cry merely for the intensity of the feeling.

"Shall we leave, then?" he asked urgently.

Her eyes surveyed the sky, as if she were consulting it. Then she lowered them, looking pensive. "Yes," she said.

He did a little leap and shout from joy. A little grin was forming on Eve's face. He so seldom saw that. Now, though, he would see it a lot. He would make sure she had lots of reasons to smile. "When should we leave?" he asked happily.

"Spring would be easiest," she answered. "Easiest to survive. We'll have to struggle through the first winter, but for the second we'll have a field and maybe some more of those stupid animals and the beginning of an orchard."

"Do we have to have more animals? I hate them. They're even stupider than plants."

Eve laughed. She looked so much younger and healthier now that she was happy and had hope. "They certainly act that way. But they're convenient. If we can't find more, though, we could always hunt. I'll make some traps. That doesn't take as much time as spear hunting."

"All right. And what if we can't find a cave?"

"I think we could make a shed all by itself without a cave as part of it."

"So we'll stay through this winter and then leave in the spring?"

"Yes."
"Should we tell them we're leaving, or just go?"
"I don't know. If we tell them, they might try to stop us."

"They couldn't stop us."

"Yes, but… I don't want them to try. I hate seeing how they think."

"So do I. Perhaps we should just leave." He hefted the now full sacks more comfortably on his back, taking one of Eve's bags away from her. She shouldn't carry so many heavy things. "But we have all winter to decide. We're almost back now." They walked the rest of the way in smiling silence.

When they reached home, cowhide bags loaded with vegetables, they knew at once that something was wrong. In the whole pasture, there were only a few sheep and cows. Bewildered, they looked around. The others were nowhere to be seen.

A horrible fear gripped Cain and held him still for a moment. Then he was running painfully fast, the bags of fruit falling to the ground behind him. Even as his mind shouted denials, he saw exactly what he had feared. The rocks which blocked the entrance to his field were scattered around. Inside the field, which had been planted with all kinds of crops for the family to eat that winter, was the herd, eating every plant there was.

He ran inside the fence, yelling and slapping the animals, trying to urge them out. It would have done little good even if they had paid attention to him. The damage had already been done. Very little was left.

He left the herd after a few moments of trying to chase them out and ran to find Adam and Abel. He was aware of Eve's sorry gaze on him as he ran, but he ignored it. He burst into the shed, feeling as if loud noise had accompanied his entrance. Adam and Abel looked up at him with utter equanimity. Adam's face was completely bland and expressionless. Abel had a spark of life in his eyes for the first time in months. He seemed almost happy, or at least satisfied.

Cain's wrath made him tremble. His face felt hotter than any fire. When at last he spoke, his voice was almost a growl. "Why did you do this?"

Abel looked blandly puzzled. "Do what, brother?"

Abel had very seldom addressed him so. Cain stomped his foot to contain his rage. His voice rose as he answered. "Why did you let your filthy, stinking, stupid animals eat my crops?" He wished he knew worse things to say about those animals. He wished he knew terrible things, words with edges sharper than claws, to say about Abel.

A delicate frown wrinkled Abel's forehead, and Adam duplicated his expression. "Did they do that?" he asked in soft astonishment.

Cain's fury at this was too much. He kicked aside everything that was between him and Abel, making angry, animallike noises as he did so. It helped relieve his rage. He seized Abel, his hands shaking with the desire to return the pain Abel had given him. If only he knew things to say that would show Abel why he had done wrong! If only he knew words that would make Abel cringe as he should! He shook him, longing to crush him like a dry leaf and feel the bones cracking under his hands, hear Abel's cries of pain and see the helpless contortions of his body.

"You useless scrap of refuse! You know you did it, they could never have gotten in unless someone moved the rocks, and even then, they're so stupid they couldn't have thought of going in without someone telling them to—" He could no longer find words for what he wanted to say and stopped abruptly, twisting Abel's arms instead. "I hate you!" he hissed. "I hate you! I hope you die! I hope…." He did not know words for what he hoped, and he twisted Abel's arms more brutally.

Adam's hands were attempting to restrain him. "You must be patient and charitable, Cain. You are the chosen of God."

"Since when? I thought this… loafer was the chosen."

Adam did not answer that. Instead he said firmly, "It was not your brother's fault, Cain. If the herd ate your crops, it was the will of God."

Cain felt as if a great commotion which had been clouding his sight and hearing had suddenly stopped and allowed him to see with perfect clarity. Hearing Adam's words, rage collapsed and he was filled with a weary, sweeping contempt. Dropping Abel to the ground, he looked at Adam with scorn. In a moment, he was able to put every drop of venom he possessed into his voice.

"You're just as stupid as those animals," he said. Then he walked out to his ruined fields.

 

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