Eviction by Night (Fragment)

Clark Ashton Smith

Fragmentary story

Mangan had observed the house with sharpening interest as he rode out to the tomato-field that morning on a truck overcrowded with unwashed Mexicans and winos.

Its manifest desertion allured him at a glance. It was a two-story, weather-boarded shanty, sitting well back from the highway on a flat, low rise of ground amid the monotonous levels of the San Joaquin plain. To all appearance, it had not been inhabited for years: the windows were void and paneless; the steeply pitching roof of ancient shakes had sagged awry and was visibly dilapidated. A few scraggly fig-trees, that had already lost their leaves with the passing of summer, barely served to hide the collapsing ruins of the front porch. The land around was untilled, with only sere weeds and wild grasses, and dying tufts of alfalfa to delimn the course of a long-dried irrigation ditch. There were neither car-trucks nor any vestige of a footpath in the fading road that led to the shanty.

Noting these details as the truck jolted by, Shaemas Mangan marked the place in his mind. Two years in the foxholes of Bataan, and a season spent largely in the over-peopled jungles of his native land, had left him with a growing predilection for privacy; also, for the shelter of a roof, no matter how ramshackle or ruinous. These things had always meant much to him; but it seemed increasingly hard to procure them. He had hated the war for its proximities as well as its perils and hardships. Returning, he had found himself homeless: his parents had lost their foothill ranch through the foreclosure of an old mortgage, and had not long survived the loss. There were no near relatives or friends to whom he could turn; and he was untrained for anything but ranch work.

Bars, restaurants, and rooming-houses had absorbed the back-wages of warfare. After a few months there had been nothing but vagabondage, with intervals of fruit-picking or other farmwork; during which he had learned that hired help was treated generally with less accommodation than that given to domestic animals. Slowed by the lamehess of a shrapnel-torn leg, his earnings at best were meagre; and steady work was beyond his endurance. He went in a sort of derelict's progress from job to job, from barroom to barroom, from jungle to jungle.

He had caught cold from the drenching of a two days' rain at the summer's onset, and a cough had harassed him persistently ever since. More lately, a bacchanalia with chance acquaintances among the willows along the San Joaquin River had cost him his purse and valise.

Reduced to the clothing that he wore — a tattered khaki shirt and stained trousers and broken-soled Army shoes — Mangan had found himself in Tracy the previous afternoon with no distinct recollection of how he had contrived to reach that dusty and dreary terminal.

It was mid-September, the peak of the tomato season. A young American-Chinese, looking for pickers, had promptly hired Mangan, advancing him two dollars against his pay for food, and had taken him to a camp occupied almost entirely by Mexican nationals. The camp was full of {... } and wandering brats. Here, disdaining the dubious priviliges of bed and board for a daily sum extractible from his wages, Mangan had elected to sleep across the road from the camp, under the single row of olive trees that bordered a recently mown alfalfa-field. Even this precarious refuge was not to be his alone: for several nondescript North Americans, some with rolls of dirty bedding, others equipped only with wine-jugs and bags of groceries, had moved in at sunset farther down the row. He avoided this invasion {... ) by the chill {... } from the flooded {... } as the situation afforded, and lay sleepless for the rest of the night, watching by the late moon the water that continued to rise slowly, laden with straws, leaves, twigs, and the filth and refuse left by campers unconcerned with sanitation or decency.

It was the first time that Mangan had ever picked tomatoes. After bending himself for some hours to the hellish, bone-racking toil he resolved that it would also be his last. Payday would find him on the roads to fresh fields... and not tomato-fields. He would go on to Lodi, or perhaps even Fresno, and work in the grape-vineyards.

He kept on, however, filling his lugs conscientiously, and chalking each one with the number given him by the checker as he added it to the slowly mounting pile at the end of his rows. The cool sea-wind, blowing commonly through the valley at that season, had fallen in a swelterery hush. Sweat dripped in heavy splashing drops from his face and bared arms, and his clothes clung irksomely. Dirt, forming a tenacious compound with the gum of the dark-green plants, began to crust his hands like a thick verdigris. His shoes and trouser-cuffs were greened with the same mixture. The juice of crushed tomatoes ran from the boxes, streaking his pants to the knee, as he carried them, limping, to the pile that receded farther and farther.

Mangan kept to himself at lunch-time, ignoring the tentative overtures of one or two of the frowsy winos whom he recognized as fellow tenants of the olive-row. He would avoid them wholly when night came, and avoid the noxious vicinity of the Mexican camp. The deserted house he had noted that morning was perhaps two-thirds of a mile up the highway from the tomato-field. There was a corner grocery farther on less, he estimated, than another third of a mile. His needs, including shelter and solitude, would be satisfied at the cost of a little more limping.

^xxx^ xxx was added by Smith.
[xxx] xxx was deleted by Smith.

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