Go Down, Moses

"Delta Autumn"


This story serves as a sort of sequel or coda to "The Bear". Ike McCaslin and Roth Edmonds are in a car with some friends, headed for what Ike suspects will be the last of his annual hunting expeditions. The wilderness has receded in recent years, and it is now a long trip by automobile. Along the way they discuss the worsening situation in Europe, with Roth taking the cynic’s view against Ike’s idealism. At one point Roth slams on the brakes, as if he saw someone or something standing along the road. He seems preoccupied and out of sorts.

The men eventually arrive at their campsite and set it up under Ike’s direction. During the night, the old man thinks about his bygone life and about how he and the wilderness are dying together.

The next morning the rest of the party set out to hunt while Ike chooses to sleep in. Roth gives him an envelope full of cash and mentions that a messenger might show up during the day. Ike is to hand over the money and “tell her I said ‘No.’” Later that morning a boat arrives. It carries a dark-eyed young woman with a baby wrapped in a blanket. Ike, ashamed of acting as a go-between in such a sordid matter, informs her that Roth has left and tries to thrust the money on her. She refuses to take it immediately, and remarks that Roth has abandoned her. Ike contemptuously asks how she could have expected anything different from him.

As the conversation goes on, it becomes clear that the young woman knows a great deal about Ike’s family and his own life, more than Roth would probably have told her; she is part of the family herself, a distant Beauchamp cousin. Ike is dismayed at the miscegenation, even though he imagines the human race might one day be ready for interracial alliances. He tells the woman to marry a man “of her own race” and go far away. She replies that he is hardly qualified to advise anyone about love and leaves without the money.

Ike is still pondering this disturbing incident when one of his hunting companions runs in, frantically looking for a knife. The old hunter deduces that Roth has killed a doe and is trying to hide the evidence: another family sin that must be covered up.


"Delta Autumn" was published in Story (May/June 1942).

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