Fire in the Morning

Fire in the Morning

Elizabeth Spencer
Copyright Date: 1948
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Fire in the Morning
    Book Description:

    Admirers of Elizabeth Spencer's writing will welcome back into print her first novel, and her new readers will discover the sources of her notable talent in this book. Published in 1948 to extraordinary attention from such eminent writers as Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and Katherine Anne Porter, this father-and-son story revolves around an old southern theme of family grievances and vendettas.

    Fire in the Morningrecounts the conflict between two families extending over two generations up to the 1930s.The arrival of an innocent stranger flares old arguments and ignites new passions. In Spencer's compelling tale of the half-forgotten violence, the well-deep understanding of father and son, Kinloch Armstrong, the young hero, confronts mysteries of the past. His wife, a newcomer to the area and its legacies, makes friends with a family of traditional rivals. After she is involved in a nighttime wreck and the death of a local man, the past gradually comes to light, and the two families once again become caught up in revelations, hatreds, and conflicts. Spencer faithfully renders the setting--a small, dusty Mississippi town--and the surrounding countryside as it was in the early twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-045-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. Part One

    • ONE
      (pp. 3-8)

      “And consequently,” the old man said, “I don’t trust a one of them to cure calf, mule or pig, and for another thing they charge too much. And I’m saying that John Henry is your bull and if he gets distemper you can call Doc Jordan or whoever, but Miss Betsy is my sow and she’s going to farrow smooth as she ever did. Using those rusty irons to alter that calf! And the pore little thing hollering and bellowing all night. I’m done with them.”

      “But what I’m telling you, Father,” the young man laughed, “just because Doc Jordan...

    • TWO
      (pp. 9-13)

      Kinloch drove Ruth in his pick-up truck that night to a house located not a mile away, yet he had to go through town to reach it, for the old road that had joined his home to the valley where Elinor and Lance Gerrard lived was grown up in weeds now and crossed by stout fences. There had once stood in this valley a mansion known as Walston Cedars after the man who had built it there. He was a South Carolina man named Marshall Walston, one who had managed to be at once both pioneer and citizen. He had...

    • THREE
      (pp. 14-40)

      Kinloch met the main highway in a lurch of speed and turned the wheel away from town. For five miles he sent the pick-up hurtling like the wind, but at the top of Valley Hill he pulled out and stopped. He sat staring out over the treetops at the Delta. A few headlights streaked the highways and the low clouds glowed here and there above the towns. It was like looking at a map to a man born, as his father said, with red clay between his toes.

      At last he straightened at the wheel, turned and drove back to town....

    • FOUR
      (pp. 41-56)

      “What was ailing kinloch tonight?” Elinor asked.

      “He hates to leave his father alone,” Ruth said.

      “Probably got him a gal over at the gravel pit,” Lance put in. “After all, when you marry a woman ugly as a mud fence—”

      She smiled.

      “I’m ready to bet one thing, Justin,” George said excitedly. “You hadn’t met Mrs. Armstrong when you said there wasn’t a good looking woman in Tarsus.”

      Elinor reached for a cigarette. “Said what, for God’s sake? What's Justin said now?”

      “It’s what I was telling you about,” George said. “There was this man in a blue...

  4. Part Two

    • FIVE
      (pp. 59-84)

      Under the hot midafternoon July sun, Tarsus surrendered and became like a ghost town. Dust-ridden already, people in the far interior of houses choked and fanned when cars passed. Among the women there were those who did not dress all day, but pottered around the house until late afternoon in night clothes. Some ladies bathed three times a day and these called each other in between baths and talked about the heat, saying, “I de-clare—!” All the men gave in. Their hat bands turned greasy black; even on Sundays no one gave a thought to coats. Blind-drawn company “front...

    • SIX
      (pp. 85-96)

      When Dan Armstrong woke up in his rocking chair that Thursday afternoon, it was his own snoring that did it. His white head came straight up with a final snort and the old black hat he had put over his face to keep out the glare toppled forward on his knees. He glanced around to chuckle at himself with whoever might be watching and since nobody was he laughed anyway.

      “Aye gannies,” he addressed the bird dog that sprawled sleeping in a dust bed under the walnut tree. “It’s a mighty big fool that’ll cut up too much racket to...

    • SEVEN
      (pp. 97-133)

      With one big foot Randall Gibson battered a decayed floor plank until he struck solid wood. He sat down and leaned his head against a creaking post that supported the sagging porch roof of the cabin.

      “Now that this walk has cleared my head, Kinloch, I’m too sleepy to tell such a long tale.”

      “By God, Randall—”

      “All right, all right. I’m going to tell you. But remember how it started and keep old Daniel off me. Remember you had to have it.”

      “Quit stalling, Randall, and begin.”

      “Beginning is the principal trouble, Kinloch. How shall one begin anything?...

    • EIGHT
      (pp. 134-136)

      Dan Armstrong, coming down the dark path for home, stopped to listen. There was someone running on the path ahead, running, yes, toward him. He stood at the top of a rise. Below him, the path broadened, crossed the branch, and went on straight up the next hill. Here the earth was dark and firm. It was getting cooler now and the smell of dew lay heavy in the wood.

      There she came, running faster down the hill, for what reason he did not know except that she did not run as though she was afraid, but long and smooth,...

    • NINE
      (pp. 137-147)

      Early after dinner that Thursday afternoon, Elinor stood by the staircase in the hall of Simon Gerrard’s house and squalled for Miss Henrietta until the roots of her hair were damp from the exertion. There was no answer. For a minute she stared morosely up the ornate banister and seemed to see beyond the many upper rooms flanking the little dark halls which ran among them, other stairs into smaller rooms, turrets and the like, how much she could never get straight, nor cared to.

      She shrugged and poked out her lower lip in a characteristic gesture of dismissal and,...

    • TEN
      (pp. 148-154)

      “Son,” said Dan Armstrong out of the darkness, “in the first place it all happened so long ago. Randall did some good guessing, all right enough, but it’s a lot of confounded impudence nonetheless. Why did Si Gerrard show up on the bridge? Why did Jeems go back to Kosciusko? He went back to Kosciusko because he went back to Kosciusko. Impudence, impudence. And thirty-five years later, too.”

      “But the facts are right,” said Kinloch, from the darkness, from his old place on the steps.

      “The facts are right,” said Dan Armstrong.

      “The facts say that Kinloch Walston was no...

    • ELEVEN
      (pp. 155-160)

      For what seemed a dozen times the next morning Ruth woke and slept, woke and slept. It was hot and the sheet and spread clung to her body, bearing her down like deadly weights fastened about her as she half-dreamed, half-imagined herself trying to float, too tired to swim, in a warm, sluggish sea. She thought to throw back the covers, but her limbs were heavy and when she finally lifted an arm, it fell back, sore. Pain stitched across her shoulder. Bruised—oh, yes, he had bruised it. Slowly she turned her head on the pillow. He was gone....

    • TWELVE
      (pp. 161-174)

      So Kinloch ran into woods and hollows and gullies, through branches and past sink-holes, down eccentric paths he had grown up with, whose small changes were like changes in his own body or mind, so that he no more had to think about where to turn and what limb to dodge than he had to think what his own hands looked like when he woke in the dark. But on the narrow path, though there was no room, there seemed a second man running beside this first habit-obeying one, and the second man was having trouble about where to turn...

      (pp. 175-194)

      “I’ve lived in almost every section of the country,” Scott Shaffer said, pushing back his plate and lighting a cigarette. “But I have never realized until these last few weeks everything that is meant by the South—the deep South, I’d better say.”

      From the end of the table, every one of Miss Henrietta’s beads flashed at the mention of the South. “Really? Can’t you tell us what you mean? We hardly think about these things, you know.”

      “For instance,” the guest said, dividing a glance between his thin hostess and Simon, who hulked spaciously at the head of the...

      (pp. 195-200)

      On Monday morning when the blue coupe bearing Ruth Armstrong and Scott Shaffer was scarcely fifty miles along its journey, Miss Cherry Bell LaGarde died. Her death occurred within fortyeight hours, almost to the minute, after she learned that her old lover’s parting gift to her—a gift large enough to set before the eyes of all Tarsus the sign of his defiance—was mysteriously missing from below her window. Randall Gibson, who was beside her constantly, was moved to considerable inward philosophizing when he noted that the burden of her half-rational complaints was directed not against whoever had taken...

  5. Part Three

      (pp. 203-231)

      August in Mississippi is different from July. As to heat, it is not a question of degree but of kind. July heat is furious, but in August the heat has killed even itself and lies dead over us.

      It was strange then that right in the dead center of August, Kinloch ran head-on into the time that was alive.

      When he first sensed it, a little way off from him yet, he thought that it had to do with his having the crop in hand so that a day or so away wouldn’t hurt. But he had known this about...

      (pp. 232-237)

      On the same night that Kinloch determined to make his journey, Ruth walked out of the apartment house where she was staying with Scott and, hailing a cab, gave a distant address. Arriving, she searched out the proper room number in the lobby and climbed the four dingy flights of stairs without hesitation or haste. But when she came to the door itself, she stopped and listened to the rapid beat of her heart, wondering if she would indeed lift her hand to knock.

      All the way through the city, sitting in the cab, holding the address in her hand,...

      (pp. 238-250)

      Kinloch did not take time to go home on his return from Dark Corners; instead he drove directly to Walston Gap where Elinor Gerrard came out to the pick-up.

      “Sure, Lock,” she said, thrusting elbows and head into the window of the truck. The long summer had drained her face; her black hair was pulled straight back so that the bones stood out beneath the flesh with the old persistence of the skull. “Sure, if it’s important. I’ll go get Lance.”

      “Is Justin here?”

      “Oh, Lord. Eternally. You want her too?”

      The three of them crowded into the cab beside...

      (pp. 251-256)

      Elinor moved about her room, hurling dresses, cosmetics and lingerie into two large suitcases she had bought for her wedding trip and had scarcely used since. Junk, junk, junk, she thought, looking in the closet at the discouraging multitude of dresses. Lord, it looks like all I’ve done for the past six years is buy clothes. Well, Justin can have most of’ em with my sisterly blessing.

      Then Lance hit the door, running, but it was locked and he must have fallen back twenty feet the way it sounded, like the disaster of a character in a movie cartoon.


      (pp. 257-267)

      Slmon Gerrard sat for a long time in his office above the store, but he no longer tapped the pen staff against the open ledger, nor did he smile. The shadows were lengthening in the square outside when he got to his feet with a grunt. He took out a large handkerchief and swabbed his neck far down below the shirt collar, exposing the line where the sun-reddened flesh divided into whiteness. He mopped his bald head and smoothed his monkish fringe of hair. At the top of the steps, he paused and walking to a cracked mirror strung to...

    • TWENTY
      (pp. 268-275)

      On a chill, clear November afternoon in 1936, Kinloch Armstrong put on his leather jacket and drove to Walston Gap to see Lance Gerrard. The two had not encountered one another except in passing since the inquest of August the previous year. For they did get to the court house after all, he and Ruth, Kinloch reflected as he drove by the square white-painted brick building where about the steps the old men sat and did not move except to brush the whittling out of their laps, and audibly resented everything that existed in Tarsus, even the cold that was...