He stopped in the hall and looked silently into the living room His expectant

He stopped in the hall and looked silently into the

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He stopped in the hall and looked silently into the living room. His expectant expression faded. His face seemed suddenly as old as his white hair. The two boys were sitting close together on the sofa, reading the same book. Norton’s cheek rested against the sleeve of Johnson’s black suit. Johnson’s finger moved under the lines they were reading. The elder brother and the younger. Sheppard looked woodenly at this scene for almost a minute. Then he walked into the room and took off his coat and dropped it on a chair. Neither boy noticed him. He went on to the kitchen. Leola left the supper on the stove every afternoon before she left and he put it on the table. His head ached and his nerves were taut. He sat down on the kitchen stool and remained there, sunk in his depression. He wondered if he could infuriate Johnson enough to make him leave of his own accord. Last night what had enraged him was the Jesus business. It might enrage John- son, but it depressed him. Why not simply tell the boy to go? Admit defeat. The thought of facing Johnson again sickened him. The boy looked at him as if he were the guilty one, as if he were a moral leper. He knew without conceit that he was a good man, that he had nothing to reproach himself with. His feelings about Johnson now were involuntary. He would like to feel compas- sion for him. He would like to be able to help him. He longed for the time when there would be no one but himself and Norton in the house, when the child’s simple selfishness would be all he had to contend with, and his own loneliness. 330 He got up and took three serving dishes off the shelf and took them to the stove. Absently he began pouring the butterbeans and the hash into the dishes. When the food was on the table, he called them in. They brought the book with them. Norton pushed his place setting around to the same side of the table as Johnson’s and moved his chair next to Johnson’s chair. They sat down and put the book between them. It was a black book with red edges. “What’s that you’re reading?” Sheppard asked, sitting down. “The Holy Bible,” Johnson said. God give me strength, Sheppard said under his breath.
396 CH. 8 / THE AUTHOR’S WORK AS CONTEXT 335 “We lifted it from a ten cent store,” Johnson said. “We?” Sheppard muttered. He turned and glared at Norton. The child’s face was bright and there was an excited sheen to his eyes. The change that had come over the boy struck him for the first time. He looked alert. He had on a blue plaid shirt and his eyes were a brighter blue than he had ever seen them before. There was a strange new life in him, the sign of new and more rugged vices. “So now you steal?” he said, glowering. “You haven’t learned to be generous but you have learned to steal.” “No he ain’t,” Johnson said. “I was the one lifted it. He only watched. He can’t sully himself. It don’t make any difference about me. I’m going to hell anyway.” Sheppard held his tongue.

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